Wednesday, January 30, 2008


By Martin Patience - BBC News, Jerusalem.

Jerusalem's iconic Dome of the Rock - normally a resplendent gold - was turned half white on Wednesday morning. Snowfalls blanketed streets and buildings with an inch-thick of powder. Jerusalem's school, universities and court houses all closed for the day

In a city more used to high temperatures than snow, the wintry weather seemed to be appreciated by those residents braving the cold. "The snow brings people together," said Oded Goldberger, 19, wearing a hat and gloves. "It's something really special."

In some parts of Jerusalem, people were making snowmen while others were having snowball fights. The city's mayor is expected to judge a snowman competition on Wednesday afternoon. "Of course it's cold and wet," said Evyator Rubin, 13, making a snowball. "But because it snows so little here it's great when it does happen."

Many people took the day off leaving the streets deserted of traffic. "I don't need to go to school today and I had a science exam."

All Jerusalem's schools, universities and courthouses were closed for the day. The public transport system is working on a scaled-back timetable. Some of the offices in the city are shut but a number of shops and restaurants are open. Many Israeli commuters took the day off and the streets are largely empty of cars.

Inna Kanaan, 31, walked to work. The Russian-born architect says that the snow reminded her of her home before she emigrated to Israel. "There was more snow in Russia, but this is good. It breaks the routine of waking up and just going to work," she said, removing her earmuffs before speaking. "It's good to enjoy nature's simple pleasures."

The Jerusalem municipality made preparations for the snow which had been forecast for days. It had 100 snow-ploughs ready to clear the city's main streets. A ritual among a small section of the city's ultra-orthodox Jewish community is to purify themselves by rubbing snow on their foreheads. While snow in Jerusalem is unusual, other parts of the country regularly see snowfall. In the occupied Golan Heights in the north of the country there is a ski-resort.

By midday, the snow was still falling in Jerusalem. But some of the city's streets were turned into streams as the snow began to melt. A cold weather snap has hit Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, causing several fatalities. Also on Wednesday the Winograd committee - a government appointed inquiry - is set a deliver a final report into the government's handling of the war against Hezbollah in 2006.

There were some rumours that the event might be cancelled because of the snow. But Israeli officials have commandeered a snow-plough - nicknamed Winograd - to make sure the committee members get to deliver the report.



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