Violence Casts Shadow on Muslim Holiday

By ZEINA KARAM
The Associated Press
Monday, October 23, 2006; 1:44 PM

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Women in southern Lebanon wept at the graves of loved ones killed in the Israel-Hezbollah war, while many Iraqis stayed home amid fears of violence Monday at the start of a major holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

The three-day holiday of Eid al-Fitr is customarily celebrated with family gatherings, presents and lunchtime feasts, but fighting has cast a shadow this year across much of the Middle East.

In the bombed-out villages of southern Lebanon, the mood was somber and the festivities muted.

"There is no Eid. There is only sadness and desperation and fear for the future," said Salma Salameh, a 43-year-old teacher in the predominantly Shiite village of Blatt.

Many Lebanese gathered in cemeteries to pay their respects to the more than 855 Lebanese who were killed during the 34-day war, most of them civilians.

In the southern village of Qana, where an Israeli airstrike on July 30 killed 29 Lebanese, women dressed in black wept over the graves. In Aitaroun, which lost 41 villagers to the war, families laid flowers and read Quranic verses at the graves.

In Beirut, many Lebanese left mosques after morning prayers and went to the grave of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a February 2005 car bombing that continues to haunt the country as U.N. investigators pursue the perpetrators.

Celebrations in the southern village of Halta were replaced with the funeral of a 12-year-old boy who was killed Sunday by an Israeli cluster bomb. U.N. demining experts say about 1 million cluster bombs failed to explode when Israel dropped them during the war this summer.

As if to underscore the tensions, Lebanese security officials said Israeli warplanes conducted overflights Monday as far north as the outskirts of Beirut _ a rare occurrence since a U.N.-brokered cease-fire halted the fighting Aug. 14.

The commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon has called Israeli overflights a clear violation of the U.N. resolution ending the war, but Israel has said it would continue them because arms smuggling to Hezbollah guerrillas has not stopped.

The start of Eid al-Fitr, which means the festival of breaking the dawn-to-dusk fast during the month of Ramadan, is determined by clerics based on the sighting of the new moon. While the holiday began Monday in most Arab countries, it will start Tuesday in Egypt, Syria and Jordan.

Some Shiites in Lebanon and Iraq also will begin the holiday Tuesday.


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