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Wintry weather strikes Middle East, bringing cold, sandstorm

By AP - Jan 06,2015 - Last updated at Jan 06,2015

A powerful winter storm began striking across the Middle East on Tuesday, bringing a bitter cold to Syrian refugees huddled in Lebanon and blanketing Cairo in a sandstorm.

In Lebanon, officials said they expected a snowstorm to strike Tuesday night in the Bekaa Valley, where hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria's civil war live, many in tents.

Outside some makeshift tents near the Lebanese town of Anjar, some refugees collected wood or cleaned their wood-burning stoves in anticipation of the storm, while others placed sandbags at the base of their tents to help anchor the shelters and protect against potential flooding.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said it would "keep vulnerable refugees as warm as we can" in Jordan, which also hosts many who fled the war in Syria.

In Egypt's capital, Cairo, a sandstorm engulfed the city Tuesday afternoon, blocking out the sun as rush-hour afternoon traffic began.

In Israel, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said major roads leading in and out of the city would be closed to prevent a repeat of the chaos that occurred during a 2013 snowstorm, when hundreds of cars were stranded on highways near Jerusalem's entrance. As temperatures began to fall, anxious Israelis flooded supermarkets, stocking up on food.

Strong waves from the Mediterranean Sea also lashed Lebanon, Syria and Israel. Syria's state news agency SANA reported that the country's two main ports in Tartous and Latakia had been closed as winds of up to 74 kilometres per hour caused waves more than five metres  high.

In the Lebanese capital, Beirut, residents walked along the seaside promenade to snap photographs of waves slamming into the seawall and sending frothy water flowing across the pavement. Tuesday night, wind and rain caused delays at the city's airport.

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