Image: A man checks damaged pilot training planes
Ahmad Omar  /  AP
A man checks damaged pilot training planes at the tarmac of Beirut Airport in Lebanon on Saturday. An airport official says a heavy rain storm has seriously damaged four small training planes that were parked on the runway of Beirut's Rafik Hariri airport.
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updated 12/12/2010 3:38:05 PM ET 2010-12-12T20:38:05

Heavy rains and fierce winds pummeled countries across the Middle East over the weekend, sinking a ship off Israel's coast and killing a woman in Lebanon whose car was crushed when a tree fell on it.

The storm brought unusually cold temperatures, below freezing in some spots. It ended weeks of unseasonably warm and dry weather that contributed to dozens of forest fires in Lebanon and helped feed a massive blaze in Israel that destroyed thousands of hectares of forest.

It whipped up sandstorms in Jordan and Egypt, which closed its largest Mediterranean port. In Syria, snow blanketed the streets of Damascus for the first time this winter. Schools sent students home early and children ventured outside to play in the streets.

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Syrian authorities closed their main port of Tartous. In Egypt, 12-foot waves forced shut the port of Alexandria — the country's largest — as well as another in the town of Nuweiba along the Red Sea coast of the Sinai Peninsula.

Royal Caribbean said some passengers aboard its Brilliance of the Seas suffered minor injuries in the heavy swells and high winds, which caused the ship to list several times as it tried to approach Alexandira. The ship has sustained some damage to the public areas, which in no way affects the sea-worthiness of the ship, the company said.

Because of the inclement weather, Brilliance of the Seas was unable to call in Alexandria, and instead proceeded to the next port of call, Valetta, Malta, the company added.

Heavy rains flooded the streets in Beirut and snow forced some road closures in remote mountain towns in Lebanon. A woman died Saturday night when an uprooted tree fell on her car in the northern port city of Tripoli, authorities said. Flights in and out of Beirut's international airport were delayed.

Off the Israeli coast, a Moldovan cargo ship sank in stormy weather about seven miles (11 kilometers) off the port city of Ashdod, and a Turkish ship was safely towed two miles to shore after sending out distress calls.

An official from Israel's shipping and ports authority, Yigal Maor, said the Moldovan vessel's 11-member crew scrambled onto lifeboats and was rescued by a nearby Taiwanese ship. The Israeli military said its sailors arrived safely ashore.

The storm briefly disrupted operations at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport. Spokesman Adar Avisar said two flights — one each from British Airways and Lufthansa — were diverted to Cyprus in the afternoon. By evening, their passengers were on their way to Israel. Departing flights were also delayed for about an hour in the afternoon, Avisar said.

Israel's two main seaports, Haifa and Ashdod, were closed through the day because of high seas and roaring winds.

Elsewhere in Israel, rain and hail pounded the country while strong winds toppled trees and traffic lights, flooding streets and knocking out electricity to hundreds of homes. Local media reported that a pier at the ancient port city of Caesarea collapsed, a breakfront at another beach cracked and towering waves washed over the shore of Eilat, a Red Sea port city.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said northern Israel was hit hardest by the storm, and that extra police patrols were dispatched to divert traffic because of downed trees. Two police officers were lightly injured when a tree fell on their patrol car, Rosenfeld said.

In the Gaza Strip, strong winds and lashing rains caused cracks in the pier and the breakfront at the harbor local fishermen use. No one was hurt, but civil defense workers and the Gaza maritime police were hauling boats out of the water and moving them and other fishing equipment to safer ground.

Egypt was hit by rain and winds up to 37 miles (60 kilometers) per hour in Alexandria on the northern Mediterranean coast.

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Sandstorms blanketed Cairo for a second day Sunday, choking the air with dust and turning the sky a tepid beige. Doormen and shopkeepers tried in vain to keep the swirling dust at bay, sweeping sidewalks and dusting off parked cars.

Jordan also wrestled with sandstorms kicked up by winds up to 55 miles (90 kilometers) per hour, police said. Visibility was severely limited, and authorities closed major highways in the eastern desert linking the country with neighboring Iraq and southern roads leading to the ancient city of Petra, a major tourist attraction.

A police statement said low visibility caused a 10-car pileup in a district south of the capital Amman, which injured 16 people.

Cairo airport remained open while Amman airport reported up to two-hour delays in domestic and international flights.

___

Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Amy Teibel and Daniella Cheslow in Jerusalem, Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, and Salah Nasrawi and Maggie Hyde in Cairo contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Storms pummel Mideast

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  1. People watch as high winds and heavy seas hit the shore on the Beirut seaside, in Lebanon, Sunday, Dec. 12. Heavy rain and fierce winds pummeled countries across the Middle East on Sunday, killing a woman in Lebanon, sinking a ship off Israel's coast and prompting Egypt to close its largest Mediterranean port. (Grace Kassab / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A man rides his bicycle through a flooded street after a storm in Sidon port city in south Lebanon, Dec. 12. (Ali Hashisho / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Small fishing boats are seen stacked atop of each other after high winds and towering waves struck Beirut's coastal area, Lebanon, Dec. 12. (Ahmad Omar / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. An Israeli man takes cover as waves crash at the Tel Aviv port, Dec. 12. (Dan Balilty / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Municipality workers try to maneuver a barrier that was damaged by high waves in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon, Dec. 12. (Mohammed Zaatari / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. An Israeli woman walks next to the walls of Jerusalem's old city, Dec. 12. (Sebastian Scheiner / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A woman looks through a car window covered with snow after a storm hit Bahamdoun village in eastern Lebanon, Dec. 12. (Jamal Saidi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Part of the main highway linking Beirut to Damascus, is seen through a car windshield during a snow storm in Sawfar village in eastern Lebanon, Dec. 12. (Jamal Saidi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Lebanese men react as waves crash into a seaside promenade in the southern city of Sidon on Dec. 12. (Mahmoud Zayat / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Egyptians look for survivors under the rubble of a factory that collapsed in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Egypt, on Dec. 12. At least three people died in the collapse, a security official said blaming the accident "on bad weather and heavy rains. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A dust storm sweeps through Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Dec, 12. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Ultra Orthodox Jewish men wear plastic bags over their hats, as they walk outside Jerusalem's old city, Dec. 12. (Sebastian Scheiner / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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