* Two million Syrian refugees face lethal conditions
* Flights cancelled, oil tankers held up in Turkey
* Heavy snow in Jerusalem and flooding in Gaza
By Stephen Kalin
BEIRUT, Dec 13 A powerful winter storm sweeping
the eastern Mediterranean this week is causing mayhem across the
region and inflicting extra misery on Syrians convulsed in civil
war and refugees who have fled the fighting.
The storm, named Alexa, is expected to last until Saturday,
bringing more snow, rain and freezing temperatures to large
swathes of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the
The bad weather, which began on Wednesday, is taking a
disproportionate toll on the 2.2 million refugees living outside
Syria and the 6.5 million people displaced within the country.
Biting cold and heavy rain beset Zaatari camp, which houses
80,000 of Jordan's more than half a million Syrian refugees.
Among them was Khalil Atma from Sanameen in southern Syria
who was shivering with her two daughters in a flooded, unheated
trailer. "We have come from one tragedy to another," she said.
Aid agencies say they are working around the clock to
evacuate refugees from flooded camps and distribute food,
supplies and clothing, but cannot keep up with demand.
"These people need much more in terms of preparations for
winter and organisations are doing their best, but winter
conditions are harsh," said Saba Mobaslat, country director of
Save the Children International, which operates in Zaatari.
In Lebanon, more than 835,000 Syrians live in tents, unused
buildings or with friends or family. UNICEF said needs were
outpacing what it and its partners could provide.
In Turkey, authorities distributed extra blankets and winter
clothes to many of the 206,000 Syrian refugees at camps along
the border, said Mustafa Aydogdu, spokesman for the prime
minister's disaster relief agency AFAD.
Refugees sheltering in 16 tent cities and six container
camps were also given oil-generated heating lamps to reduce the
risk of fire, Aydogdu said. Snow removal and firefighting teams
have been established at the camps.
FIGHTING IN THE SNOW
Despite the weather, shelling and clashes raged on this week
in Syria, where rebels have been fighting for more than 2-1/2
years to bring down President Bashar al-Assad.
Images on Twitter showed rebels marching through the snow
carrying automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.
Photographs from the central Syrian city of Homs revealed
blocks of houses devastated by two years of street fighting and
air strikes, and now covered in a thick layer of snow.
Al Arabiya television on Friday broadcast an image of a
child said to have died from exposure in Syria. Reuters could
not independently verify the report.
The World Food Programme said it was distributing 10,000
litres of fuel for cooking and heating to internally displaced
families living in 10 shelters in Damascus.
WFP Syria Director Matthew Hollingworth said many Syrians
had fled without enough warm clothes or blankets. "Syria is
always quite cold in winter but it is quite different when you
face a fierce winter in a shelter with very limited resources
rather than in the comfort of your own home," he said.
The snow also prevented the start of a United Nations
airlift to bring relief supplies from Iraq to tens of thousands
of people in Syria's remote northeastern Kurdish areas.
A snowstorm of rare intensity blanketed the Jerusalem area
and parts of the occupied West Bank, choking off the city and
stranding hundreds in vehicles on impassable roads.
Israeli authorities said at least 50 cm (20 inches) of snow
had fallen since Thursday and more was forecast through the day.
"In my 54 years I don't remember a sight like this, such an
amount I cannot recall," said Nir Barkat, mayor of Jerusalem.
The Israeli military helped police rescue hundreds of people
stranded in vehicles on highways near Jerusalem. More than 500
were given makeshift shelter in a city convention hall.
Highways into the city were shut, with ploughs impeded by
falling snow and freezing cold. Broken tree branches toppled
electricity wires leaving tens of thousands without power,
Israeli media said. Residents were told to stay at home.
Despite the storm, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Friday to try
to spur lagging peace talks. He had met Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah the day before.
The storm forced Kerry to cut short his session with Abbas
to return to Israel before the roads and border-crossings shut.
In the blinding snow, his convoy's path was cleared only by
a Palestinian front-end loader whose driver stuck his head out
the door to see all the way from Ramallah to the Israeli border
where Israeli police escorted Kerry's party back to the hotel.
The usually 45-minute trip took more than two hours.
An unusual blanket of snow surprised residents in the Gaza
Strip who stopped to take pictures of snowy scenes. But the
Palestinian territory was also hit by heavy rain that flooded
roads and made them impassable. Emergency workers used fishing
boats to evacuate 700 people from their homes and provide food,
blankets and torches to hundreds of others caught in high water.
Gaza's Hamas government said all its resources and manpower
were available to aid rescue operations, including its armed
wing usually charged with fighting Israel.
Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas administration,
called for fuel to be allowed to enter Gaza. "Gaza survived two
wars (against Israel) and it will walk out of this," he said
wearing a heavy coat and the yellow jumper of emergency workers
as he toured the affected areas overnight.
Fuel shortages in recent weeks have caused Gaza's sole power
plant to shut its generators, leaving residents with 12-hour
blackouts and disrupting hospitals, sewage treatment facilities
and private businesses.
Two days of snowfall in Turkey forced the cancellation of
240 international and domestic flights on Thursday at airports
across the country with delays spanning several hours, flag
carrier Turkish Airlines said on its website.
The Bosphorus Strait, through which some 10,000 vessels and
150 million tonnes of oil products pass each year, reopened on
Thursday after high winds, strong currents and poor visibility
prompted maritime officials to bar tankers the previous day.
Five tankers were waiting to enter at both ends of the
strait, shipping agent GAC said.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman, Ayla Jean Yackley
in Istanbul, Lesley Wroughton in Jerusalem and Nidal Al Mughrabi
in Gaza; Writing by Stephen Kalin and Oliver Holmes; Editing by