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Middle East storms keep Iranian captives grounded

Record breaking weather conditions in the region have killed 11 people so far

Image Credit: REUTERS
People walk on a street during snowfall in Damascus
Gulf News

Dubai: Nearly 50 Iranians headed home after being freed by Syrian rebels in a prisoner swap were stranded yesterday at Damascus airport by the bad weather that has swept the Middle East.

The plane to take them home after months in captivity could not take off because of strong winds from a fierce winter storm that has hit the region in recent days and so far killed 11 people.

The worst storms in a decade left swathes of Palestine and Jordan under a blanket of snow and parts of Lebanon blacked out yesterday, bringing misery to a region accustomed to temperate climates.

Freezing temperatures and floods since Sunday across the region exacerbated the plight of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees huddled in tented camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

A Syrian official said the Iranians left the Damascus Sheraton hotel early yesterday. But the plane to take them home after months in captivity could not take off because of strong winds. An airport official said a Syrian plane was waiting to take the Iranians home later in the day.

The snow and rain storm in Lebanon caused blackouts across the country where electricity workers have also been on strike for several days, residents and officials said yesterday.

In Jordan, King Abdullah II ordered the army to support the government in opening roads and helping those stranded in the snow.

A Gaza health official said a man was electrocuted after being struck by a power cable snapped loose by ferocious winter winds.

The rare snowstorm has paralysed traffic in Occupied Jerusalem, its suburbs and the West Bank. In the Saudi region of Tabuk heavy snow  was reported yesterday as the Saudis braced for a cold spell with temperatures expected to plummet to -7C today.

In the UAE, a significant drop in temperature was expected to start last night and continue  until Sunday as strong, cold Shamal (north-westerly) winds hit the country.
Blowing sand and suspended dust are expected over scattered areas. The maximum temperature will be 31C and minimum 12C.

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