Snowstorm lashes Israel, cuts off towns

JERUSALEM - Israel was on Saturday lashed by a fierce winter storm, with access to cities and towns on high ground cut off by another day of heavy snowfall.

A meteorologist told army radio the country was experiencing its heaviest snow since 1879, but also predicted the storm would end by nightfall.

An Israel Electric Corporation official told the broadcaster that some 29,000 households nationwide were without electricity, 13,000 of them in Jerusalem.

Police said 45 towns and villages in the north were cut off because of the snow, and a police Twitter feed said 200 motorists were rescued overnight.

Late Friday, the Ayalon highway connecting commercial capital Tel Aviv to its satellite cities was closed for two hours because a river burst its banks.

The two highways leading to Jerusalem, which climb to around 795 metres (2,600 feet) above sea level, remained closed in both directions for the third day.

Most major roads within the city itself were clear on Saturday from snowdrifts, but the municipality still implored residents to stay home and not try to drive.

The military and volunteers were distributing blankets in the city and taking needy people to warmer buildings.

Two trains were set to leave Jerusalem for Tel Aviv and Haifa on Saturday at 0900 GMT and 1200 GMT, a rare event as public transport is normally shut down in Israel on the Jewish Sabbath.

A police spokeswoman said on Saturday that an Arab-Israeli infant died in the central city of Lod in a house fire apparently caused by a faulty heater.

And on Friday night, a 37-year-old resident of Rishon Letzion south of Tel Aviv fell to his death as he tried to repair a roof leak.