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Middle East engulfed in thick sandstorm

A thick sandstorm is engulfing parts of the Middle East that has so far, left at least eight people dead and hundreds suffering respiratory issues.

The dust storm began on Monday, sweeping through large parts of Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Cyprus. Syrian refugees now living in Lebanon have been badly affected due to living in informal camps with limited shelter.

Officials are warning people to stay indoors until the dust settles, which authorities are expecting to take several more hours. Police distributed face masks on city streets as authorities warned people suffering from health problems, the elderly, and pregnant women to stay indoors.

“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 head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel Rahman.

The ministry added, “The number of cases of choking and shortness of breath caused by the sandstorm has risen to 750.” The thick cloud also enveloped parts of the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where residents were told to limit their time outdoors.

Secretary General of Lebanon’s governmental National Council for Scientific Research Mouin Hamzeh said satellite images “clearly show that the sandstorm came from northern Iraq in the direction of central and northern Lebanon, north and east Syria, and southern Turkey”.

“It usually happens twice or even three times a year in Lebanon but during spring, March and April, and the unusual thing today is the density of the storm,” he said.

In the Syrian city of Mayadeen in Deir Ezzor, several hospitals stopped receiving patients after running out of oxygen tanks. Health officials warned that the concentration of dust particles in the air was many times above normal levels.

The effects of the storm also reached Cairo where the city was clouded a thick haze.

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