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JERUSALEM – A heavy winter storm descended on parts of the Middle East on Friday, with snow forcing the closure of all roads leading in and out of Jerusalem and sprinkling Israel's desert with a rare layer of white.
Snow also fell in parts of the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria as a cold front swept through the region.
The Holy Land's ancient sites were picture-postcard pretty. Snow capped the golden Dome of the Rock, a Muslim site in Jerusalem, dusted the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site, and blanketed the Nativity Church in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where Christian tradition holds that Jesus was born.
"It's a magic wonderland," said Miriam Leibowitz, a Jerusalem resident, as she reached a snow-filled city park with her family. "In the middle of Jerusalem we felt like we're in Switzerland."
Jerusalem municipality spokeswoman Brachie Sprung said 10 inches of snow were dumped on the city, with 4 inches more forecasted for later in the day.
Twenty-year-old Nachy Faiman, a Jewish seminary student from Monsey, New York, said he was praying with a group of men at the Western Wall when the snow started. "It was awesome," he said.
Jerusalem's light rail tram service was shut down after two trams, making dry runs without passengers, were derailed overnight due to the snow, tram service spokesman Ozel Vatik said.
Israeli desert towns of Dimona, Yerucham and Arad woke up to a layer of white while in Arad, residents proudly showed off a snowman. Israeli TV broadcast an unusual scene from the desert: camels in the snow.
The Syrian capital of Damascus and surrounding mountains were covered with snow, and in neighboring Lebanon, the snowstorm closed most mountain roads, isolating dozens of villages.
The Beirut-Damascus highway was closed since late Thursday and the Lebanese fire department urged people to stay at home.
In the Jordanian capital of Amman, snow paralyzed most streets, and in Gaza, heavy rains that started on Thursday have been forecast for the rest of the week.
In Egypt, strong winds and heavy rain shut down the Mediterranean ports of El-Arish and Damietta, where strong winds uprooted trees.
The Red Sea Port Authority said six of its ports shut down early Friday, including Ain Sukhna in the Suez area and the ports on the Red Sea resorts of Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh.