Jerusalem - The worst snowstorm in 20 years shut government offices, public transport and schools in Jerusalem and along the northern Israeli region bordering on Lebanon on Thursday.
Many Palestinians in the hilly occupied West Bank were also snowed in and dozens were forced to flee flooded homes.
Elisha Peleg, an official in charge of emergencies with Israel's municipality for Jerusalem, urged residents to remain at home and stay off the streets, telling Israel Army Radio the area had overnight seen its greatest snowfall since 1992.
He said 10 to 15 centimetres (4 to 6 inches) of snow had piled up in the city centre and more than that in outlying areas. “The downtown area is bathed in white,” Peleg said.
“The elders of Jerusalem don't remember such a snowstorm in years,” Peleg also said.
Public transport ground to a halt for several hours. Many vehicles that ventured onto roads were stuck and citizens were urged to remain at home. Government offices also remained closed for the day.
“Make it a family day. In the afternoon, the temperatures are supposed to rise and you will be able to head out for some shopping,” Peleg said.
Israel Radio said a highway linking Jerusalem to Tel Aviv was blocked, and much of the northern Galilee region was paralysed by heavy snowfalls.
Some traffic arteries opened later in the afternoon as temperatures rose and some snow melted. Public bus services partially resumed and were free of charge in Jerusalem, as an incentive to keep private vehicles off the slushy roads.
In the occupied West Bank, city streets were largely abandoned, with few residents chancing the hilly and widely rutted roads and schools kept shut because of the weather.
A general strike by government employees also kept Palestinians in their homes, as the Palestinian Authority has been unable to fully pay salaries following Israeli economic sanctions announced last month in anger at a campaign that won de facto United Nations recognition of Palestinian statehood.
The Palestinian meteorological institute said that snow levels in the Ramallah, East Jerusalem and Bethlehem areas had reached 10-20cm and as much as 30cm in Hebron.
Flooding was reported in the northern West Bank, where water “inundated dozens of houses and widely damaged agricultural areas local farmers depend on for their livelihoods,” Jenin governor Talal Dweikat told Palestinian Radio.
“Dozens of families have been forced to flee their homes, but thank God there have been no deaths, and the Authority is dealing with the problem aggressively despite its financial problems,” Dweikat said. - Reuters