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08/28/2008, Egypt - "Mideast Running on Different Clocks at Ramadan", By KATARINA KRATOVAC- Associated Press Writer


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The start of the holy month of Ramadan next week is causing clock confusion in the Middle East. Egypt and the Palestinians are falling back an hour far earlier than usual, trying to reduce daylight hours for Muslims fasting until sunset in sweltering summer temperatures.

Politics is also adding a twist. The Palestinian militant group Hamas is ending daylight-saving time at midnight Thursday in the Gaza Strip, which it controls while the West Bank, run by the rival Fatah faction, is waiting until midnight Sunday.

The Palestinians have traditionally changed their clocks at different times from Israel in a gesture of independence. Now for the first time, they're directing the gesture at each other, reflecting the rival claims for power in the more than year-old split between the Palestinian territories.

"Hamas just wants to show they're different from the Palestinian government, to pretend that they are the real government here," said Jamal Zakout, a spokesman for the prime minister of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority. He said the PA chose midnight Sunday because Ramadan is expected to begin Monday.

Egypt will also move its clocks back one hour at midnight Thursday, a full month earlier than usual. The switch will put Egypt two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and at least an hour later than its Mideast neighbors.

The creeping-up of the clock change reflects the complications of the lunar Islamic calendar.

Ramadan comes around 11 days earlier each year. Currently, that brings it more into the long, hot days of summer, making it particularly tough for Muslims, who abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset during the holy month. Even in September, temperatures in Egypt are in the upper 90s.

Egypt's decision will enable its people to have their "iftar" evening meal, breaking the fast, an hour earlier.

Israel goes off daylight-saving time on Oct. 5, before the Jewish holy day Yom Kippur. It won't reduce the length of the 25-hour fast, which goes from sunset to sunset, but makes it a bit easier by reducing the number of daytime hours observant Jews must go without food or water.

Jordan and Lebanon will switch the clocks back as usual by the end of October. Syria falls back in late September, while Saudi Arabia and Iraq don't change clocks.

Ramadan, which commemorates the revelation of the first verses of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, begins and ends with the sighting of the new moon. During the month, families and friends gather for sometimes lavish iftar meals, ending with the Eid al-Fitr, a three-day holiday of the breaking of the fast.

Associated Press Writers Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah contributed to this report.

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