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Icy storm batters struggling Gaza Strip

Source: Reuters - Thu, 12 Dec 2013 13:10 GMT
Author: Reuters
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A member of the Palestinian civil defense carries a boy after evacuating him following heavy rains on a stormy day in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, December 12, 2013. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, Dec 12 (Reuters) - A severe winter deluge enveloping much of the Eastern Mediterranean added to the woes of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, with more than 30 people injured in car crashes and as poorly built homes collapsed in the icy rain.

Gaza's 1.8 million people, governed by the Islamist group Hamas, have already been enduring around 12 hours blackouts daily since the lone power plant was switched off last month due to a fuel shortage.

The enclave lies on the coast, sparing it the snow that has fallen across other parts of the region, but the heavy rain nonetheless felled trees and damaged nearly 200 homes.

Locals built makeshift bridges across the torrents with bricks and wooden planks and emergency workers plied flooded streets with heavy trucks and small fishing boats to whisk residents trapped by the freezing water to safety.

One of the most densely populated tracts on earth, Gaza is home to mostly impoverished refugees and their descendants.

It lacks much basic civil infrastructure and lives under an Egyptian-Israeli blockade meant to cut off arms flows, but which also curbs imports of fuel, building supplies and basic goods.

Ashraf al-Qidra, a Health Ministry spokesman, said 31 residents had been injured, two seriously, in collapsed homes, car accidents and falls.

"We are so far able to carry out our duties with limited small quantities of fuel for ambulances and medical centres, but we appeal for all parties to provide help so we can continue to do so," al-Qidra said.

Snow fell in neighbouring Jordan and in Lebanon, where almost a million refugees from the civil war ravaging neighbouring Syria - many of them in tented camps - struggled to survive the weather.

In parts of the occupied West Bank and in Jerusalem, many schools and offices were closed and public transport was briefly suspended.

Snow capped the iconic golden crest of the Dome of the Rock there, and Israelis played in the snow beside the ancient grey stones of the Wailing Wall.

Back in Gaza, some residents were able to look on the bright side of the harsh hand nature had dealt them.

"As if we needed more!" quipped Abu Khaled, a vegetable seller, with a smile.

"Anyway, the rain is good - may God eventually resolve our suffering," he said, wrapped in a heavy brown coat and wool cap.

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