A dense sandstorm engulfing parts of the Middle East has left at least eight people dead and thousands suffering from respiratory problems, as officials warned residents to stay indoors.
Large parts of Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Cyprus were on Tuesday shrouded in a thick cloud of dust from the storm that began sweeping into the region on Monday.
Refugees from Syria now living in basic conditions in Lebanon were badly affected.
In Syria itself, the storm meant government warplanes and helicopters carried out fewer strikes, but at least six people died across the country from respiratory failure, a monitor said.
“There were four (killed) in Deir Ezzor, including a child and an elderly woman, as well as another child in Hama province and a person in Daraa,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Lebanon’s health ministry said two women had died at hospitals in the eastern Bekaa Valley region because of the storm, without specifying their nationality.
“The number of cases of choking and shortness of breath caused by the sandstorm has risen to 750,” the ministry said.
Police distributed face masks on city streets as authorities warned people suffering from health problems, the elderly, and pregnant women to stay indoors.
The storm was felt particularly in Lebanon’s dozens of informal camps where hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees live with limited shelter.
Syria’s health minister urged citizens to “avoid prolonged exposure to the outdoors”, and said hundreds of people had been treated for asthma and other respiratory problems.
A thick haze hung over Jerusalem and much of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, with officials warning the vulnerable to stay indoors.
The thick cloud also enveloped parts of the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where residents were told to limit their time outdoors.
The effects of the storm also reached Cairo, where the skyline was obscured by a thick haze.