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Palestinians Join Muslim World in Observing Ramadan


Muslims in the Middle East are observing the holy month of Ramadan which began on Saturday.

Palestinians packed into the Arab bazaar in Jerusalem's Old City to shop for Ramadan. The cobblestone alley ways are decorated with colored lights, and shops are selling flashing crescent moons - the symbol of Islam. Bakers flipped special pancakes to be eaten when the daily fast ends at sundown.

While many shopped, others came to pray at the Mosque of Al-Aksa, the third holiest place in Islam. Ramadan marks the giving of the first verses of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, to the Prophet Mohammed.

Khaled Hamdi, a Palestinian merchant, says Ramadan is first and foremost a religious holiday, a time of repentance and fasting from dawn to dusk.

"No drinking, no smoking, no eating, only praying," he said.

This is the first Ramadan in 33 years to begin in August. And with temperatures hovering around 33 degrees centigrade here in Jerusalem, shopkeeper Khaled Faheb says it is a challenge.

"First of all the day is longer, and the temperature is higher, and you don't drink for about 16 hours, and this is pretty, pretty hard," said Faheb.

Israeli soldiers armed with assault rifles patrolled the narrow streets of the Old City, and Faheb said that puts a damper on the holiday.

"It is a very sad Ramadan in Jerusalem mainly because of the occupation," he said.

Palestinians are not optimistic about ending the Israeli occupation because peace talks remain deadlocked. Faheb says there is plenty of blame to go around.

"I think it's both of us, we and the Israelis, I don't blame only one side, I mean both of us are not ready for a real peace settlement, no," he said.

Despite the volatile mix of religion and politics, the atmosphere was calm.

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