Severe Winter Storm Hits the Middle East Increasing Concerns for Refugees

The storm has brought blizzards, heavy winds, and rain to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

Members of the Lebanese Red Cross walk across the snow towards a refugee camp sheltering Syrian refugees in the village of Deir Al-Ahmar, in the Lebanese Bekaa valley, on January 8, 2015, after a heavy snow storm hit the region the previous day. Many refugees in Lebanon were trapped in their tents by snow, struggling to stay warm in temperatures hovering around zero degrees. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

A winter storm, forecast to last for several days, is hitting the Middle East raising concerns for the millions of refugees in the region. The storm has brought blizzards, heavy winds, and rain to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. It has worsened conditions for Syrian refugees bringing freezing temperatures to hundreds of thousands of people who have sheltered in unfinished or unheated buildings or tents and is causing camps to flood and tents to collapse. The United Nations said it would prefer to relocate the refugees affected by the bad weather, but dismissed the option due to the large numbers of people as well as the lack of funding and authority. The United Nations estimates over 3.2 million people have fled Syria since the conflict began in 2011, and another 7.6 million have been displaced within the country.


Suicide car bombings at checkpoints near the central Iraqi city of Samarra Thursday killed several people, including two policemen and a civilian, and injured dozens of others. Samarra is a predominantly Sunni city, but holds the Shiite al-Askari shrine. Reports vary over the number of checkpoints hit as well as the number of causalities. Following the suicide attacks, officials reported Islamic State militants launched rocket and mortar strikes on the city. Gunmen clashed with security forces for hours and then retreated after coming under fire from Iraqi warplanes. Meanwhile, Pentagon officials reported Wednesday that U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have hit 3,222 Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria since August 2014.


  • An Egyptian court said it will announce a verdict on April 21 in a trial against ousted President Mohamed Morsi over charges of inciting the killing of protesters in December 2012.
  • Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran must “immunize” itself against international sanctions ahead of nuclear talks set to resume on Jan. 18 in Geneva.
  • The Egyptian army is doubling the size of a buffer zone along the Gaza border planning to demolish 1,220 additional homes in the Sinai Peninsula.

Arguments and Analysis

ISIS Is Losing Its Greatest Weapon: Momentum’ (Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, The Atlantic)

“The most obvious sign of ISIS’s decline is that the group is no longer conquering territory, seizing no major towns or cities since Hit (and this hasn’t been for lack of effort on its part). ISIS continues to capture villages from time to time; for example, on December 27 it gained control of 14 villages in Anbar after Iraqi security forces withdrew from the area. But those villages aren’t equivalent to a major urban area and had been taken from ISIS by Iraqi forces just two days earlier. In October, ISIS advanced ominously on the Syrian city of Kobane; the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy declared in The New Republic that ‘Kobane will fall. In a matter of hours.’ It has yet to fall, and Kurdish forces now appear to have the advantage, though the town remains contested. ISIS has even been losing ground, albeit unevenly. In December, the group pulled its forces from Iraq’s Sinjar district, home to one of ISIS’s main resupply routes from Syria into Iraq (the other being Tal Afar). This has threatened to isolate ISIS-held Mosul.”

Hamas’s Choices’ (Adnan Abu Amer, Sada)

“Tension with the consensus government is growing over a number of issues. Following the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, locals feel the current unity government is dragging its feet on the reconstruction process, focusing instead on administrative and bureaucratic disputes with Hamas—particularly regarding various local, regional, and international agreements to monitor the entry of building materials allowed into Gaza. For its part, Hamas feels that the slow nature of the reconstruction process is an attempt to undermine its support base and popularity in Gaza. Hamas also claims the consensus government has not helped to reach a fair settlement to open the Karam Abu Salam (Kerem Shalom) and Erez border crossings with Israel; and with the Rafah crossing mostly closed since October due to the security situation in Sinai, this has caused further isolation. Amid worsening social and economic circumstances, Hamas is concerned about unrest in Gaza, while the unity government stresses that Hamas has not allowed it to manage the situation and has instead retained its tight control over the strip.”

Turkey’s AKP pits Kurd against Kurd’ (Fehim Tastekin, Al-Monitor)

“First, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which used to brag about being the only party other than the HDP to enjoy Kurdish support, sees Huda-Par as a ‘sister party’ rather than a rival, even though Huda-Par also targets the vote of Kurds with Islamic inclinations. Promoting Huda-Par as an alternative Kurdish party is a sly tactic ahead of the June elections, in which the AKP aims to clinch a strong parliamentary majority that would allow it to introduce a presidential system, a goal that will be easier to achieve if the HDP fails to overcome the 10% national parliamentary threshold.

Second, the government — on an uphill track in the Kurdish peace process — appears to be flirting with the idea of taking on Huda-Par as a partner in the talks.”

Mary Casey-Baker

STR/AFP/Getty Images

 Twitter: @casey_mary

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