MIDDLE EAST

Heaviest winter storm in decades hits Israel and Gaza

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 4:44am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 4:44am
MCT

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Hundreds of Gaza Strip families were forced to evacuate their homes in boats and rafts as heavy flooding rose to second-storey levels during the heaviest winter storm in decades.

At least four people were reported dead as the torrential rain and snow began to subside on Saturday after hammering Israel, the Palestinian territories and other nations for three days.

In a rare appeal, Hamas authorities in Gaza requested assistance from Israel, via the United Nations. Israel opened the Kerem Shalom crossing to Gaza to allow gas for heating and other humanitarian aid into the Strip, as well as pumps to clear flooded areas. According to Israeli military officials, an Israeli-Palestinian command centre was also set up to co-ordinate power, traffic control and other West Banks systems affected by the weather.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kept abreast of intensive efforts to bring emergency relief to thousands of Israelis cut off from power in sub-zero temperatures. Emergency crews delivered babies, transported elderly people to shelters and rescued people from cars and flooded buildings.

Israel's military dispatched dozens of bulldozers and heavy-duty vehicles to help clear the roads in and around Jerusalem.

Among the storm's victims were a six-week-old baby who died in a fire caused by a malfunctioning heating device and two men who drowned in a river.