Jerusalem locked down by fiercest snowstorm in years

Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, some of the holiest sites for for Jews and Muslims, are covered in snow in Jerusalem on Friday, Dec 13, 2013. The hilltop city of Jerusalem was paralysed on Friday by its fiercest snowstorm in years, with i
Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, some of the holiest sites for for Jews and Muslims, are covered in snow in Jerusalem on Friday, Dec 13, 2013. The hilltop city of Jerusalem was paralysed on Friday by its fiercest snowstorm in years, with its mayor calling out the army to help stranded motorists. -- PHOTO: AP

JERUSALEM (AFP) - The hilltop city of Jerusalem was paralysed on Friday by its fiercest snowstorm in years, with its mayor calling out the army to help stranded motorists.

"We are battling a storm of rare ferocity," Mayor Nir Barkat said in a statement as snow in the Holy City piled up to around 37cm, while outlying areas had much deeper drifts.

Main roads into the Holy City, which climb around 795m above sea level were closed and police appealed to drivers not to attempt the journey.

Temperatures in the city were predicted to reach a high of 2 deg C during Friday and drop below freezing at night, with the snowfall that started on Thursday continuing into Saturday.

Schools were closed for a second day and most residents appeared to be heeding advice to stay at home.

"We have asked people living in Jerusalem not to drive in private cars unless they have four-wheel-drive because of the danger on icy streets," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

He said that by mid-morning police had been called to help about 1,500 drivers in the city and on the roads leading to it.

He said about 1,000 stranded travellers were given shelter at the Jerusalem International Conference Centre on the city's western edge.

Young and old, ultra-Orthodox Jews and secular Israelis were camped on mattresses in the centre, many of them glued to mobile devices as they watched for news of a change in the weather, an AFP photographer said.

Spokesman Rosenfeld said that another 400-500 people had been taken to the Ofer military base on the northeastern road into Jerusalem.

"Only when the storm has eased can we start clearing roadways," mayor Barkat said. "We are at the moment using all means to rescue those caught in the storm."

Ramallah and Bethlehem, Palestinian cities near Jerusalem, were also coated in snow and some lower-lying areas suffered flooding from heavy rain.

The Gaza Strip was lashed by torrential rain for a third day, and its Hamas rulers said on Friday that so far residents had been evacuated from 60 flooded homes since storms hit the coastal territory on Wednesday.