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Oddly Enough - Reuters
Snowballs Replace Bullets as Snow Hits Holy Land
Tue Feb 25,10:34 AM ET
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By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Witness to centuries of bloodshed, the ancient walls of Jerusalem's Old City saw only white Tuesday as Palestinians and Israelis traded snowballs instead of stones and bullets.

Photo
Reuters Photo

 

The exchange -- between Palestinian youths and Israeli passers-by at the ancient Dung Gate -- came in celebration of a rare heavy snowstorm that brought much of the Holy Land to a standstill, offering a respite from 29 months of fighting.

"This sort of thing gives everyone perspective. It makes people focus on what they have in common rather than politics," veteran Israeli meteorologist Danny Roup told Reuters.

Across the West Bank, the strongest cold front in a least a decade brought snow as deep as 12 inches, almost unimaginable in a region better known for balmy winters.

In Israel, snow blocked palm-lined highways and only a few vehicles dared to venture out as the Mediterranean country's tiny fleet of snowplows went to work.

Most of neighboring Lebanon and Syria were also snowbound, with the main Beirut-to-Damascus road blocked and dozens of mountain villages isolated.

In West Bank cities that have been largely reoccupied by Israeli forces, the winter whiteness masked the scars of almost daily Israeli-Palestinian clashes.

Palestinian youths who on other days might play deadly games of cat-and-mouse by throwing stones at Israeli patrols or putting up nationalist posters made do with tamer pastimes.

Snowmen went up in Ramallah's main square, indistinguishable from those made by Israeli children only a few miles away.

In Bethlehem, the town revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, snow dusted church steeples and mosque spires.

"People are out and about. There is a sense of relaxation and joy that comes with snow -- children and even young men throwing snowballs at one another," said Sami Awad, a Christian activist who promotes non-violent resistance to occupation.

HOLY CITY SNOWED IN

Having followed weather reports for days, schools and most businesses in Israel and the West Bank never opened their doors. The silence was interrupted only by the squeals of children, among them toddlers swaddled up by their parents for what was for some a first glimpse of snow.

In the stillness of Jerusalem's Old City, Jewish, Christian and Muslim faithful shuffled through sleet, past palm trees with frosted fronds, until finally reaching their places of worship.

The golden Dome of the Rock and silver-capped al-Aqsa Mosque -- holy to Muslims and occasional flashpoints for violence during the Palestinian revolt for independence -- were decked in downy white.

At the Western Wall, revered by Jews as the last edifice of their ancient temples, one young man donned headphones to keep his ears warm as he swayed in prayer.

Winter storms also dumped a heavy blanket of snow on central Lebanon, cutting off the country's main international highway and knocking out electricity and phone lines.

Up to five feet of snow blocked off the Dahr al-Baydar mountain road that connects Beirut to Damascus.

Witnesses said dozens of villages in the eastern Bekaa Valley were snowed in after plows failed to make it through the blinding storm to clear remote roads.

A thawing-out was expected to begin in the region on Wednesday.


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