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Mideast Muslims Celebrate Holy Day

December 27, 2000

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Muslims across the Middle East who traditionally mark the end of Islam’s holiest month with feasts and celebrations were more somber this year, mindful of the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians in recent violence and the struggle of Iraqis living under economic sanctions.

Muslims believe the Quran, their holy book, was revealed to man during the month of Ramadan 14 centuries ago. The world over, Muslims mark the holy month with daylong fasts.

During the three-day holiday of Eid al-Fitr that follows Ramadan, tradition calls for Muslims to gather at the homes of the family’s elders. But few Iraqis can afford the feast nowadays. Instead, many visited cemeteries to pray, drink tea and eat snacks, a way to keep the deceased company during the holiday.

``To hell with sanctions! People do not give money to beggars anymore because they do not have it to start with,″ a beggar who refused to give his name said as he tried unsuccessfully to collect alms near a Baghdad graveyard Wednesday, the first day of Eid.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict served as an Eid al-Fitr rallying cry.

In Cairo, imams leading millions of worshippers in mosques and city squares urged followers to give traditional Eid alms to Palestinians who have lost relatives in the violence. After prayers, some activists sold pictures of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem to raise funds for the Palestinians.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat marked Eid with early morning prayers Wednesday at a Gaza mosque, telling reporters ``this holiday is decisive.″ He was weighing a U.S. proposal that would involve concessions by both the Palestinians and Israelis in order to craft a peace deal.

``With God’s help, it will lead to a Palestinian boy or a Palestinian girl raising the flag of Palestine over the walls of Jerusalem,″ said Arafat, who is to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in Egypt on Thursday.

In Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the imam of Masjid Al Haram, Islam’s holiest site, called ``the tragic events″ in the Palestinian territories a ``source of sorrow to every Arab, Muslim and fair-minded person in the world.″

``The Jewish invaders have violated the forbidden, desecrated the sacred and usurped our land in Palestine while the whole world has stood idle,″ Sheik Mohammed Bin Abdellah Al-Sabeel said in a sermon following Eid prayers. His words were broadcast live across the region on state-owned Saudi satellite television.

Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, condemned Israel and promised to support the Palestinians.

``It is a human, religious, wise and historical duty for all the Muslim nations to support the oppressed Palestinian nation as much as possible,″ Khamenei told tens of thousands of worshippers whom he led in the Eid prayers in a northern Tehran mosque.

Worshippers responded with calls of ``Death to Israel! Death to America!″

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