Syria refugees riot in Jordan camp after storm sweeps away tents in bitter cold, wet weather

Two Syrian refugees walk among tents, surrounded by water and mud, at Zaatari Syrian refugee camp, near the Syrian border in Mafraq, Jordan, Jan. 8, 2013. AP

ZAATARI, Jordan Syrian refugees in a Jordanian camp attacked aid workers with sticks and stones on Tuesday, frustrated after cold, howling winds swept away their tents and torrential rains flooded muddy streets.

Police said seven Jordanian aid workers were injured when they were attacked by dozens of refugees while distributing bread for breakfast.

The refugees may be about to face even deeper misery with warnings of a major snowstorm on Wednesday.

"It is hell; boiling hot in the summer and freezing cold now," lamented Ahmed Zibi, 45, who said he spent the night watching over his five children when his tent collapsed. "Rain flooded the tent and its shafts submerged and collapsed on us."

The riot broke out after the region's first major winter storm this year hit the Zaatari refugee camp, home to nearly 50,000 refugees, at least half under the age of 18, in Jordan's northern desert.

Inside the camp, large puddles surrounded tents, stranding pregnant women and infants. Some refugees scurried to evacuate their flooded tents or used small buckets to bail out the water, while others made walls of mud to try to keep the water out. Women, children and the elderly took cover in other tents.

Ghazi Sarhan, spokesman for the Jordan Hashemite Charitable Organization, said frustration over the harsh conditions triggered the riot. The charity runs the camp along with the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR.

Calls from loudspeakers echoed across the camp urging protesters to evacuate muddy streets.

UNHCR says 597,240 refugees have registered or are awaiting registration with the agency in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Some countries have higher estimates, noting many have found accommodation without registering.

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The World Food Program also said Tuesday it is unable to help 1 million Syrians who are going hungry inside Syria.

WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said the agency plans to provide aid to 1.5 million of the 2.5 million Syrians that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent says are internally displaced. But the lack of security and the agency's inability to use the Syrian port of Tartous for its shipment means that a large number of people in the some of the country's hardest hit areas will not get help, she said.

"Our main partner, the Red Cross, is overstretched and has no more capacity to expand further," Byrs said.

Rain was intermittent and the wind had subsided by Tuesday. But the weather service warned a large snowstorm could hit Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and parts of Iraq on Wednesday. Private and public schools throughout Lebanon were closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Temperatures dipped below freezing overnight and were expected to be similar late Tuesday night into Wednesday. Winds gusted up to about 35 mph overnight.

Fadi Suleiman, 30, said Zaatari camp conditions were "worse than living in Syria," where rebels are fighting a civil war against authoritarian ruler Bashar Assad that has killed some 60,000 in nearly two years of fighting.

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