Ramadan has been marked by bloodshed in Syria for the third successive year, with well over 2,000 deaths recorded since it began on July 10, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
With Eid al-Fitr approaching, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) general-secretary Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi called on both sides to put down their weapons to give “the Syrian people the chance to celebrate this important religious occasion, and to perform its rituals in peace and security.”
They also urged “all the regional and international stakeholders to support this appeal.” The Assad regime is being supported by Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi’ite militants; rebel groups, among them foreign jihadists, are receiving arms via the Gulf states and Turkey.
Ihsanoglu and al-Arabi said a ceasefire would allow humanitarian agencies to operate in areas affected by the fighting.
U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon last week said the death toll in the conflict that erupted in March 2011 now exceeds 100,000. Before Ramadan began, Ban had appealed for both sides in Syria to stop fighting over the month.
Ihsanoglu also urged the warring parties at the start of Ramadan “to respect the sanctity of this holy month and stop all forms of hostility and bloodshed.”
“Ramadan is a month of purity, serenity and security,” the OIC chief said. “It is a month during which Muslims exert more efforts to refrain from all forms of sin, seeking repentance and forgiveness according to the teachings and values of Islam.”
Ahead of Eid al-Fitr, this weekend sees the “night of power,” the highpoint of the month, when Muslims believe the revelation of the Qur’an to Mohammed began. Religious scholars describe it as a time of heightened emotion for devout Muslims, many of whom stay up through the night. But extremists have also timed attacks to coincide with the occasion.
Last year the “night of power” fell on August 15, and witnessed more than 200 deaths according to the Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots network of activists.
By the time Ramadan 2012 was over, the network said it was able to document at least 4,685 people killed during the month, including 445 children and 342 women. It also claimed that most of the deadliest shelling from regime forces coincided with the evening iftar meal, which brings families and friends together to break the dawn-to-dusk fast.
Ramadan 2011 came relatively early into the conflict – at a time when the total death toll was in the vicinity of 1,600 – but even so the Syrian Observatory said at its end that at least 360 civilians and 113 security officers had been killed during the month.
The Arab League comprises the world’s 22 Arab states while the OIC groups together 57 mostly Muslim-majority nations. Syria is a member of both organizations, but both have suspended the Assad regime over the civil war.