Muslims mark start of Ramadan, many under cloud of war

Beirut: More than a billion Muslims observed the start of Ramadan today but in the besieged cities of Syria and Iraq residents struggled to mark the holy month.

Islamic authorities announced the start of the fasting month with the sighting of the crescent moon in countries such as Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

Marking the divine revelation received by Prophet Mohammed, the month sees Muslim faithful abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex from dawn to dusk.

They break the fast with a meal known as iftar and before dawn have a second opportunity to eat and drink during suhur. The month is followed by the Eid al-Fitr festival.

But for many in Syria who have been accustomed to hardship after five years of war, this year’s Ramadan was expected to be especially difficult, particularly in besieged cities and towns.

In Madaya, where some 40,000 people have been living under government siege for months, resident Mumina, 32, and her husband planned to break the fast using UN food handouts.

The package contain pulses and tuna cans but “there’s no pasta, no meat, no dairy. We tried to plant some vegetables but the land isn’t good for planting now,” she said.

“There’s barely any food in the markets and whatever we find is so expensive that we can’t buy it,” she said, planning a simple meal of beans for Monday night.

Shadi Matar, an activist from Daraya, also complained that residents would only feed on greens for iftar.

“We definitely have a lot of choices,” he said trying to put a brave face on things.

“There’s parsley, radishes, coriander, arugula, spinach, and sometimes we can find zucchini,” he said. “But there are other people who don’t even have these options.”

An estimated 8,000 people live in Daraya which received on June 1 its first aid delivery since a regime siege began in 2012, but British charity Save the Children said it excluded desperately needed food.

In the Iraqi city of Fallujah, father-of-six Abu Mohammed al-Dulaimi also worried about how to provide food for his family during Ramadan.

Iraqi forces have tightened a siege around Fallujah as they press a major advance to retake the city from the Islamic State jihadist group.

An estimated 50,000 people are believed trapped inside, some being used as human shields by IS, and the families left behind are often those who could not afford to leave.