Winter storm blasts Europe; 13 dead amid heavy snow, gusts

BERLIN — Hundreds of people were snowed-in in Alpine regions and warned of a high risk of avalanches, parts of Scandinavia were left without electricity, and high winds caused flight delays and cancellations in the Netherlands as deadly winter weather continued to blast Europe on Tuesday.

Several people have already been killed in weather-related incidents over the last week, and in Norway attempts to find the bodies of four skiers were again put on hold due to poor visibility and heavy snowfall. A 29-year Swedish woman and three Finns, aged 29, 32 and 36, were presumed dead after a 990-foot-wide avalanche hit the Tamok valley, near the northern city of Tromsoe, last week.

In Austria, hundreds of residents were stuck in their homes due to blocked roads, and some regions experienced power outages after snow-laden trees took down power lines.

Schools in some Austrian regions remained closed for a second day and homeowners were advised to remove snow from their roofs after several buildings collapsed. A 78-year-old man was severely injured when he fell of the roof of his home in Turrach while shoveling snow, Austrian public broadcaster ORF reported.

On Monday night, 11 German hikers had to be rescued by mountaineers from a cabin near Salzburg, after having been snowed in without electricity and little food since Friday. Several people were killed by avalanches in recent days and authorities warned continuing snowfall is increasing the already high risk of more avalanches.

In southern and eastern Germany, people were also bracing for further snowfall, while in the northern coastal city of Hamburg residents were preparing for a storm flood caused by a winter gale, the German news agency dpa reported.

In neighboring Netherlands, Amsterdam’s busy Schiphol Airport warned of delays and cancellations. Dutch carrier KLM canceled 159 flights to and from European destinations.

In northwestern Dutch coastal regions expected to be hardest hit by strong winds and wild seas, local water authorities began checking dikes to make sure they were not damaged.

The Noorderzijlvest water authority said it was monitoring dikes because of debris floating in the sea after nearly 300 containers tumbled off a cargo ship in a storm last week. Many of the containers are still at sea and some have broken open, spilling their contents.

“A fridge or container that is rammed against a dike can cause damage,” the authority said on its website.

Heavy snowfall and strong winds were reported Tuesday over central Scandinavia, hampering efforts to restore electricity after a hefty storm swept through northern Europe on Jan. 2.

Swedish media reported several fender-benders and stranded vehicles along roads but nothing unusual for the season in this part of Europe.

Meanwhile, in southeastern Europe, schools in the Greek capital and many surrounding areas remained shut due to weather conditions after snowfall blanketed Athens, with temperatures in some parts of the country plunging well below freezing.

Courts in Athens were also to remain shut Tuesday, with only fast-track prosecutions being heard, the Justice Ministry said. Some rural roads, particularly those leading up to the mountains near the capital, were shut overnight and in the early morning.

Greece has been experiencing a cold snap for the past few days, with heavy snowfall, particularly in the north of the country and in mountainous areas. Temperatures have reached minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of northern Greece, while many islands have also experienced snowfall.

Mike Corder contributed reporting from The Hague, Netherlands; Jan M. Olsen reported from Copenhagen, Denmark, and Elena Becatoros from Athens, Greece.

Turkey’s Erdogan criticizes John Bolton as rift between NATO allies deepens

ANKARA, Turkey — President Donald Trump’s plans for withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria were thrown into more uncertainty Tuesday as national security adviser John Bolton left the region after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to meet with him. Bolton’s mission to smooth a troop withdrawal with U.S. allies instead ended in only widening the rift with Turkey.

The path forward now appears more muddled than ever given Trump’s demand for assurances that Turkey protect Syrian Kurds after U.S. troops depart and Erdogan’s public snub of Bolton.

A senior administration official told NBC News that Trump thought he had gotten a commitment from Erdogan in a Dec. 23 phone call that Turkey would protect the Syrian Kurds, who have been a key U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State, after the American troops leave.

But a defiant Erdogan on Tuesday declined to meet with Bolton, who was in Turkey for talks about the withdrawal. In a speech to his political party, Erdogan said that Bolton had made a “serious mistake” in saying no U.S. troops would leave northeast Syria without such a commitment.

Erdogan said that Turkey would never compromise on the issue of the Syrian Kurds, or YPG Kurdish militia, which Turkey sees as a terrorist organization and part of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party.

Bolton met for more than two hours earlier in the day with his Turkish counterpart, Ibrahim Kalin, the senior administration official, who was at the meeting, said. During that meeting, Bolton presented Kalin with a list of five conditions the U.S. has for withdrawing troops from Syria — items agreed to by Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and James Jeffrey, the U.S. envoy for Syria and the fight against ISIS, according to the senior administration official.

The list includes “a negotiated solution to Turkish security concerns,” the official said, and stipulates: “We want the protection of all civilians, particularly local minority populations. We’ll cooperate with Turkey on de-conflicting the airspace over northeast Syria. The United States opposes any mistreatment of opposition forces who fought with us against ISIS.”

Turkey rejected the proposal.

“I think it’s fair to say that the United States stuck by the president’s request as reflected in these points that the Kurds, that the opposition forces that fought with us, not be mistreated,” the U.S. official said. “And the Turks stuck by their position that the PYD and the YPG are terrorist groups and they’re free to go after them.” (The PYD, or Democratic Union Party, is the political wing of the YPG.)

Kalin told Bolton that Erdogan had committed Turkey to not taking offensive action in Syria while U.S. forces were there, the official said.

The official said Erdogan’s speech on Tuesday was not at odds with the commitment Trump thought he had gotten from Erdogan during their Dec. 23 phone call.

National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said Erdogan called Kalin during their meeting and told him to send his regards to Bolton. However, Erdogan said he wouldn’t be able to spend any time with Bolton because he was headed to Parliament to deliver a speech.

A meeting between Bolton and Erdogan was never confirmed, a U.S. official said, but administration officials had said one was expected.