Massive sandstorm blankets Middle East for a second day

JERUSALEM — Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry urged citizens Wednesday to avoid excessive physical activity and stay indoors, as a massive sandstorm blanketed the Middle East in a thick yellow haze for a second day with no relief in sight.

The ministry said heavy levels of dust and sand in the air pose a threat to cities throughout the country. The ministry’s website advised pregnant women, the elderly and those with heart and respiratory conditions to stay indoors, and urged schools to keep children indoors during recess.

The emergency service Magen David Adom reported that it has treated more than 300 Israelis suffering from breathing complications, and hospitals have noted an increase in respiratory-related patients, including a large number of elderly and those with asthma and related conditions.

The domestic Israeli airlines Arkia and Israir continued to ground their flights to Eilatbecause of reduced visibility.

The sandstorm has affected Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, where at least five deaths have been reported. The storm has also disrupted fighting and airstrikes in Syria, which is torn by civil war, according to news accounts.

“There has been nothing that came close to the magnitude of this sandstorm,” saidDaniel Rosenfeld , a professor with the Earth Sciences Institute at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

While Israel has experienced a number of sand storms in the past, they originated from the Sinai and Sahara desert to the south and were accompanied by winter windstorms that cleared the air, he said.  In this case, the storm comes from Syria and Iraq to the north and east.

Because the storm is hitting during the summer, at a time of both little wind and severe heat and humidity, forecasters expect the particles to remain in the air throughout the weekend and potentially into next week.