Amman, Jordan – The fiercest winter storm to hit the Mideast in years brought a rare foot of snow to Jordan on Wednesday, caused fatal accidents in Lebanon and the West Bank, and disrupted traffic on the Suez Canal in Egypt. At least eight people died across the region.
In Lebanon, the Red Cross said storm-related accidents killed six people over the past two days. Several drowned after slipping into rivers from flooded roads, one person froze to death and another died after his car went off a slippery road.
Parts of Israel were bracing for snow a day after the military was forced to send helicopters and rubber dinghies to rescue residents stranded by floodwaters. In Jerusalem, streets were mostly empty as light snow began to stick Wednesday night.
The unusual weather over the past few days hit vulnerable Syrian refugees living in tent camps very hard, particularly some 50,000 sheltering in the Zaatari camp in Jordan’s northern desert. Torrential rains over four days have flooded some 200 tents and forced women and infants to evacuate in temperatures that dipped below freezing at night.
Swap of prisoners releases 2,000
Damascus, Syria – Rebels freed 48 Iranians on Wednesday in exchange for more than 2,000 prisoners, including women and children, held by Syrian authorities – a deal struck after rare negotiations involving regional powers Turkey, Qatar and Iran.
It was the first major prisoner swap since the uprising began against President Bashar Assad nearly 22 months ago.
Iran is one of Assad’s main allies, and the Iranians, who were seized outside Damascus in August, were a major bargaining chip for factions trying to bring down his regime.
The exchange also highlighted the plight of tens of thousands of detainees languishing in Syrian prisons, many of whom were picked up at street protests and have not been heard of since.
Trade seen as sign of China’s recovery
Beijing – China’s trade growth rebounded strongly in December in a positive sign for the gradual and still uncertain recovery of the world’s second-largest economy.
Export growth more than quadrupled from the previous month to 14.1 percent while imports – which failed to grow at all in November – rose 6 percent in a sign of increasing domestic demand, data showed today.
The trade figures add to evidence China is gradually emerging from its worst economic downturn since the 2008 global crisis. Factory output and other activity improved in the final quarter of 2012, but analysts say a recovery is still shaky and will be too weak to drive a global rebound without a turnaround in the United States and Europe.
The World Bank and private sector forecasters expect growth of about 8 percent in 2012 and about 7.5 percent this year.