CAIRO: 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 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. It s politics. He said the PA chose midnight Sunday because Ramadan is expected to begin Monday.
Egypt moved its clocks back one hour at midnight Thursday, a full month earlier than usual. The switch put Egypt two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and at least an hour later than its Mideast neighbors, further east.
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 and 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 (upper 30s Celsius).
Egypt s decision will enable its people to have their iftar, breaking the fast, an hour earlier.
Israel goes off daylight-saving time on Oct. 5, before Yom Kippur, also as a way of making the Jewish holy day s 25-hour fast easier.
Jordan will switch the clocks back as usual by the end of October, as will Lebanon. Syria falls back in late September, while Saudi Arabia and Iraq don t change clocks.
Another issue is schools. Ramadan always is seen as a disruption for classes: Children often start trying to adhere to the fast in their early teenage years, and studying during the fast is difficult.
Last year, Ramadan began in mid-September, the same time as schools started, giving a rocky beginning to the school year.
This year, Egypt s Education Ministry pushed back the start of school about a week to Sept. 20 to reduce the amount of time students must be in class during the fast. Still, many students are complaining on blogs and internet chat rooms that the school opening should wait until the end of Ramadan.
Egypt s Central Bank announced that banking hours during the holy month will be down to just four hours a day – from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm.
Ramadan, which commemorates the revelation of the first verses of the Quran to the Prophet Mohamed, begins and ends with the sighting of the new moon.
Particularly in Egypt, it s a festive month, with families and friends gathering for sometimes lavish iftar meals with special Ramadan delicacies. The month ends 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.