The skies turned orange as a heavy sandstorm hit parts of Syria on Monday (7 September) before it swept across other parts of the Middle East on Tuesday (8 September). The unseasonal clouds of dust killed two people in Lebanon and left hundreds more in hospital with respiratory problems. The storm also engulfed Israel, Jordan and Cyprus. "We have had sandstorms before, but not of this intensity. It's very rare for this time of year, too, and it's covering the entire region," a Cypriot metrological office spokesperson told Reuters.

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Beachgoers swim in the Mediterranean Sea during a sandstorm in Tel AvivBaz Ratner/Reuters
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A man plays with a fish during a sandstorm in the southern Lebanese port city of SidonMahmoud Zayyat/AFP
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A Palestinian man walks with a camel at the Mount of Olives, from where the al-Aqsa Mosque compound and Jerusalem's old city can usually be seenThomas Coex/AFP

The storm disrupted the fierce fighting in Syria. There were fewer air strikes there, as the storm engulfed the sky, said Rami Abdulrahman from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

People across the region posted pictures online of huge clouds of billowing dust. Dust storms frequently hit the Middle East during the summer but usually concentrate on Iraq and Gulf region where clouds of sand are whipped up from arid areas.

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The beach at Ramlet al Bayda is seen during a sandstorm in Beirut, LebanonMohamed Azakir/Reuters
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UN peacekeepers wear face masks while they monitor the Lebanese-Israeli borderAziz Taher/Reuters
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A woman covers her mouth and nose during a sandstorm in JerusalemAmmar Awad/Reuters
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People walk near the Tower of David in Jerusalem's Old City during a sandstormRonen Zvulun/Reuters
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A Palestinian woman stands in front of the ruins of a house during a sandstorm in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza StripIbraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters
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A bird rests on a wire in front of the sun during a sandstorm in Sidon, LebanonAli Hashisho/Reuters
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Cars drive on Dbayeh Highway as a sandstorm blows over the Lebanese capitalJoseph Eid/AFP
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A Syrian refugee covers his face to protect himself from the dust during a sandstorm at a refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley, LebanonAFP
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A Palestinian man wears a mask as he walks past the Dome of the Rock mosque in the al-Aqsa Mosque compound during a sandstorm in the old city of JerusalemAhmad Gharabli/AFP
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Roman ruins are seen through the dust in Baalbeck in Lebanon's Bekaa valley during a sandstormAFP
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A statue is silhouetted against an orange sky in BeirutJoseph Eid/AFP
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Minarets and a church tower in Beirut stand out in a dull yellow skyJoseph Eid/AFP
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A Syrian woman carries a child amid the dust at a refugee camp on the outskirts of the eastern Lebanese city of BaalbekAFP

Lebanon's Health Ministry said two people had died as a result of the storm and 750 people had been taken to hospital with breathing problems. The ministry warned people to stay indoors, especially those with health issues, pregnant women and the elderly, and only to venture outside with face masks.