(Adds details on snow damage in Palestinian territory,)
JERUSALEM Jan 10 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.
(Additional reporting by Noah Browning; Writing by Allyn
Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Jon Boyle)