World

Rare snow blankets the Middle East, casting a quiet magic

It is a particular kind of magic: watching snow fall in the Middle East. In a region associated with desert stretches and warm winters, the blanket of white casts a silencing charm. Snow is fleeting, and when it falls, places like Istanbul, Jerusalem, a refugee camp in Syria or Iraq’s Kurdish north go quiet.

Ilan Rosenberg/Reuters

Snow’s infrequent visits to cities halt life, at least temporarily; most places are not equipped to handle it. But the enchantment persists. Many Arab households mark the occasion by playing a song by Fairouz, the Lebanese diva: “Snow Snow.”

Snow days in Damascus are among my happiest childhood memories.

Ilan Rosenberg/Reuters

Istanbul

Falling snow submerges Istanbul in a white so thick it becomes nearly impossible to see the Asian side of the city from the European side. The Bosphorus Strait gleams silver.

Ilan Rosenberg/Reuters

The Sabiha Gokcen neighborhood in Istanbul.

Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Trudging through the Kadikoy district.

Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Seagulls swarm a wharf.

Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Lebanon

The ancient Roman temple in Baalbek looks like a postcard: a snapshot spanning centuries with scattered ruins disappearing into a snowy mist, and broken columns topped with tufts of white.

Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Baalbek's ancient ruins in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.

AFP/Getty Images

AFP/Getty Images

AFP/Getty Images

The village of Kfar Shouba in southern Lebanon.

Aziz Taher/Reuters

Aziz Taher/Reuters

Digging out in Kfar Shouba.

Aziz Taher/Reuters

Aziz Taher/Reuters

Sledding in Kfar Shouba.

Aziz Taher/Reuters

Aziz Taher/Reuters

Golan Heights

Near a border crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, a memorial site becomes a white-capped playground, decorated with icy trees and snowy brushstrokes.

Aziz Taher/Reuters

Israeli tourists pose for a photo on a military monument near Moshav Alonei HaBashan in the Golan Heights.

Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty Images

Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty Images

Snow falls near Kibbutz El-Rom.

Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty Images

Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty Images

A memorial site near the Quneitra border crossing.

Ariel Schalit/AP

Ariel Schalit/AP

Snow covers tanks near Moshav Alonei HaBashan.

Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty Images

Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty Images

An Israeli solider takes photos of his family.

Ariel Schalit/AP

Ariel Schalit/AP

Northern Aleppo, Syria

Joy arrives with the first snowfall in Syria’s refugee camps — and leaves as suddenly as it came. Tent inhabitants have a warped intimacy with winter, its cold raging through flimsy fabric and snow turning into rivers of mud.

Ariel Schalit/AP

Snow-covered tents in a camp for refugees in Northern Aleppo last month.

Mahmoud Hassano/Reuters

Mahmoud Hassano/Reuters

Mahmoud Hassano/Reuters

Mahmoud Hassano/Reuters

Sulaymaniyah, Iraq

This Kurdish city in northern Iraq is encircled by mountains. Many of its denizens hit the roads for an escape from the coronavirus restrictions.

Mahmoud Hassano/Reuters

The first snowstorm of the year in Sulaymaniyah, seen last month.

Shwan Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images

Shwan Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images

Young Kurdish Iraqis play in Sulaymaniyah.

Shwan Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images

Shwan Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images