Civil war in Syria takes toll on Ramadan festivities

Men bought bread from a street vendor during Ramadan in Aleppo, Syria.
Muzaffar Salman/REUTERS
Men bought bread from a street vendor during Ramadan in Aleppo, Syria.

DAMASCUS — As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began Wednesday, many Syrians who observe the daily dawn-to-dusk fast that ends with a lavish family meal were struggling to maintain a festive mood and holiday warmth as the country’s bloody conflict rages for a third year.

In one rebel-held city, residents have resorted to begging for crumbs at a local soup kitchen, while in a camp on the Jordanian border, refugees languishing in the desert heat lament being separated from relatives back home.

Reflecting the deprivation brought on by the war, the United Nations food agency said that 7 million people were now reliant on food aid simply to eat. The fighting that has destroyed much of the country has also caused prices to soar, leaving many Syrians struggling to get by.


‘‘People come by the kitchen just begging for scraps,’’ said an activist in the rebel-held northern Syrian city of Maarat al-Numan. ‘‘It tears the heart.’’

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At the Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian desert, many of the 120,000 Syrians in the sprawling tent city were homesick and miserable.

‘‘Carrying out the Ramadan fast in this refugee camp is extremely difficult in every way imaginable,’’ said Abu Qusai, a 32-year-old construction worker from the restive southern province of Daraa, where the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. ‘‘It is as dry as a bone. and the dust is kicking up. We’re thirsty, dirty, and very uncomfortable. We’re fed up.’’

Ramadan is traditionally a time of reflection and prayer, and Muslims are expected to abstain from food, drink, smoking, and sex during the daylight hours and instead focus on spirituality, good deeds, and charity. But the hardships of the war in Syria have eroded much of the Ramadan joy.