A Not-So-Festive Ramadan Ends

An elderly Palestinian man argues with an Israeli soldier to enter Jerusalem through a checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Bethlehem Friday Dec. 8, 2000. Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza were banned from prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound to mark the second Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The violence in the Palestinian territories overshadowed Muslim celebrations of the end of the holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday, with religious leaders urging the faithful to liberate Jerusalem from the Jews.

As Muslims worldwide celebrated Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Islam's holiest month, clerics also urged worshippers to divert zakat, or alms, to the Palestinians.

In Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the imam of Masjid Al Haram, Islam's holiest site, said "the tragic events" in the Palestinian territories are 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 the Eid prayers. His words were broadcast live across the region on state-owned Saudi satellite television.

Muslims believe the Quran, their holy book, was revealed to man over Ramadan 14 centuries ago. They mark the holy month with daylong fasts and celebrate its end with feasting.

But unlike previous years, Muslims in many countries ended this Ramadan with few festivities. Palestinian families all over the West Bank and Gaza were mourning their dead. Nearly 350 people have been killed in the three months of fighting in Israel and the Palestinian territories, almost all of them Palestinian.

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

Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, blasted Israel and promised to support the Palestinian uprising.

"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!"

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who performed early-morning prayers in a Gaza mosque, told reporters that "This holiday is decisive."

"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."

Elsewhere, other pressing secular concerns intruded on the sacred.

In Afghanistan, the ruling Taliban militia's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, warned his countrymen that the United States and Russia have a plan to isolate Muslims worldwide beginning with Afghanistan.

Omar issued a message calling for vigilance, particularly against the United States and Russia, who cosponsored a U.N. resolution imposing sweeping new sanctions on the Taliban. He accused America of using the presencof suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan as a ploy to thwart the rule of the Taliban, who espouse a harsh brand of Islamic law in the 95 percent of the country they control.

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