'Unprecedented' sandstorm blasts across Middle East

Five people are dead and hundreds are in hospital with breathing difficulties

A Palestinian man wears a mask to protect his face from the dust as he walks past the Dome of the Rock mosque in the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, during a sandstorm, in the old city of Jerusalem
A Palestinian man wears a mask to protect his face from the dust as he walks past the Dome of the Rock mosque in the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, during a sandstorm, in the old city of Jerusalem

An "unprecedented" sandstorm has swept across the Middle East, covering Lebanon and Syria in dust and causing the deaths of at least five people.

Hundreds more were admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties, according to officials, as cities were blanketed in yellow sand.

Reduced visibility prompted the Syrian government to call off airstrikes against rebel fighters in a central province, local media reported, and threatened a planned protest by Lebanese activists over the government's inability to deal with the country's rubbish crisis.

The unseasonal storm also hit Jordan, Israel and Egypt. In Jordan, schools shut down or cut their days short.

The sandstorm reached the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, a day after it engulfed the Bekaa Valley in the east of the country. People, especially those with health issues, were advised to stay indoors while many of those who ventured onto the streets donned surgical masks.

Palestinian workers remove debris from buildings, amid a sandstorm

The Lebanese Health Ministry said 750 people suffered breathing problems across the country, and that two women died because of the sandstorm.

Two boats set adrift were rescued by coastguard, the National News Agency said. Airport officials reported some flight delays.

Lebanese authorities warned residents against burning rubbish that has piled up on Beirut streets this summer, sparking a political crisis and daily protests.

Lucien Bourjeili, one of the protest organisers, said the bad weather may prevent people from taking to the streets in a major protest planned for Wednesday.

A beach in the city of Tel Aviv during a sandstorm

In the Syrian capital, Damascus, the head of a major hospital, Adeeb Mahmoud, said more than 1,200 people, including 100 children, had been treated for breathing problems.

The Syrian pro-government Al-Watan newspaper said the weather forced a halt in government airstrikes against rebel fighters north of the central province of Hama.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said hospitals in the town of al-Mayadeen in the northern province of Deir el-Zour ran out of oxygen cylinders and were unable to take in more patients.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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