Severe snowstorm closes roads, freezes pipes across Holy Land

JERUSALEM — Snowmen and snowball fights were the order of the day in Israel's snow-covered areas Monday as schools, roads and workplaces were closed.

The snow was the result of a rare Mideast winter storm that deposited more than a foot in Jerusalem and other hill areas of Israel and the West Bank. It was the first heavy snowstorm to hit Jerusalem in six years.

Israel Railways increased service between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as scores traveled to the capital to see the snow. Haifa residents were surprised to discover the southern slopes of Mount Carmel covered in a light layer of snow, while the mountain ranges surrounding Eilat were also lightly dusted.

Knesset sessions were postponed until midafternoon, as the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway was closed for part of the morning, preventing many MKs, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, from reaching the capital.

In the Golan Heights, Safed and the surrounding hilly areas of the Galilee, soldiers, policemen and public works department crews worked feverishly to open the main roads.

Hundreds of Safed residents had frozen pipes in their homes, which left them without water, and several villages in the Galilee were reportedly without electricity.

Damage to agriculture was seen, though there are some who claim the weather assisted farmers.

Aharon Matook, chairman of the Merom Golan Regional Council, said the cold weather helped to kill pests that plagued fruit trees. Matook assured the public that there would be an abundance of apples, pears and plums next summer because of the cold weather.

In the territories, the main roads leading to Jerusalem were open by midmorning. The heaviest snow fell in the Hebron area. Civil Administration officials and IDF troops helped the Palestinian Authority fit ambulances with tire chains.

In the autonomous areas, schools were closed and children played in the snow, though some shopkeepers braved the cold weather to open. In Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip, scores of families were forced from their homes due to heavy flooding.

In the south, flooding was reported and roads leading to the snow-covered city of Mitzpe Ramon were closed. The town was without electricity as of Sunday, because the snow prevented Israel Electric Corp. workers from performing repairs.

The Meteorological Service reported that the worst of this weather system had passed. Showers were expected later in the week.