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Holy Land hit by heaviest snowfall in decades Thousands of Gazans evacuated after floods

JERUSALEM, Dec 15, (AFP): The heaviest snowfall in decades blocked roads across Israel and the West Bank, while torrential rains flooded areas of the Gaza Strip. The heavy snow, which stopped falling Saturday afternoon, prompted Israeli authorities to interrupt the Jewish sabbath to lay on relief trains. Nationwide, some 30,000 households were without electricity, nearly 9,000 of them in Jerusalem, the Israel Electric Corp said. Jerusalem city workers managed to clear most roads of drifting snow but appealed to residents to stay at home as fallen trees posed a persistent traffic hazard. Few had ventured out, apart from observant Jews walking to synagogues.

The two main highways into the city, which climb to around 795 metres (2,600 feet) above sea level, remained closed in both directions for a third straight day. Jerusalem-based meteorologist Boaz Nechemia told AFP that between 45 and 60 centimetres (18-24 inches) of snow had accumulated in the Holy City by Saturday. “We haven’t had such a snowfall in some 70 years,” he said, noting that a metre of snow fell on Jerusalem in 1920. With road travel almost impossible, authorities laid on free trains to Tel Aviv and Haifa on the coast, interrupting for the first time ever the shutdown of public transport on the Jewish day of prayer and rest, which runs from sundown on Friday to Saturday night. The army said it was using armoured vehicles to distribute aid to areas cut off by the bad weather. Schools in Jerusalem, Safed and other cities would not reopen Sunday, with the Jerusalem municipality explaining that it had to evaluate damages at educational institutions before the did.

Channel 2 television said an initial estimate put the damages at $85 million (62 million euros). A police spokeswoman told AFP four people had died due to weather-related accidents since Thursday night. Access to West Bank cities such as Ramallah remained blocked by heavy snowfall, an AFP correspondent said, with the only source of power in many cases being private generators. Low ground on the coast was spared the snowfall, but torrential rains left areas of the Gaza Strip submerged. Gaza was “a disaster area with water as far as the eye can see,” the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees said. The territory’s Hamas rulers said 5,500 people had been rescued and sheltered after their homes were flooded on Saturday.

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