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Plea after Middle East snowstorm

Syria's main Western-backed opposition group has appealed to the international community to help Syrian refugees and internally displaced amid a snowstorm that has killed at least five people.

The Syrian National Coalition's interim premier, Ahmad Touma, said in Istanbul that the situation on the ground is "catastrophic" because of low temperatures and lack of tents in refugee camps.

The storm killed three Syrians in Lebanon and two in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Wednesday.

The wintry weather, which struck much of the Middle East on Tuesday, mostly silenced the guns in Syria and grounded government war planes because of bad visibility.

Mr Touma said that over the past two months alone, some 2,000 families have fled the violence and that 800 of them are without shelter.

"The storm has bad effects and good ones," said Beibares Tellawi, an activist in the besieged neighbourhood of Waer in the central Syrian city of Homs. "We have no blankets, no heating but the regime stopped its air strikes."

Another prominent opposition figure, Suhair Atassi, added her appeal for aid from "countries that are friendly to the Syrian people".

The Syrian war has so far killed more than 200,000 people and led to a massive humanitarian crisis, forcing more than three million to seek refuge abroad, mostly in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.

The war, which began nearly four years ago, has also displaced some 6.5 million Syrians within the country whose pre-war population numbered about 23 million people.

In the eastern Lebanese village of al-Marj, Syrian refugees huddled in tents and complained that they had no money to buy diesel or wood for heating. Some were placing plastic bottles and bags as well as rubbish in their stoves for heating.

Many of the refugees in al-Marj said humanitarian organisations were not coming to help them.

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