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21 Jul, 2012 18:00

Ramadan deepens a gulf between Syrian rebels and regime  

In war-torn Syria, even Ramadan has become a new political front as the government and the rebels disagree over when the holy month starts. The sides have also not ceased fighting, with new reports about fresh clashes in Aleppo.

Islam uses a lunar calendar, and Ramadan begins when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted. So in different countries the holy month starts on a different day, but normally with a difference not exceeding one day.In Syria, it started with a controversy this year. While the government, along with Iran, declared that the first day of the holy month falls on Saturday, rebels decided to start fasting a day earlier, in line with their geopolitical allies like Saudi Arabia and Turkey."The Syrian National Council announces … Friday is the first day of Ramadan, unlike what was declared by the regime," read a statement released by the opposition group. Mixing religion and politics has become increasingly common in this 17-month-long struggle.And while the enemies are praying to the same god, they also seem to agree on at least one other thing – that the holy month is unlikely to bring any respite to the violence.On Saturday, fighting continued to rage between government troops and rebels in a few districts of Aleppo, Syria's biggest city and a northern commercial hub.“The sound of bombardment has been non-stop since last night. For the first time, we feel Aleppo has turned into a battle zone,” a housewife told Reuters by phone.The Saladin district is said to have been under rebel control for the past two days, with activists claiming that the clashes started on Friday morning and continued through the night.Also on Saturday, rebels tried to seize the Nassib checkpoint on the border with Jordan, but were rebuffed by Syrian government troops."We could hear from our side of the border the sound of gunfire and clashes on the Syrian side," a Jordanian security official told AFP.Syrian rebels have taken over a border crossing at the countries' northern frontier, the governor of Iraq's Ninevah province said. He added that Free Syrian Army troops forced out Syrian authorities from the crossing at the Iraqi town of Rabiya on Saturday afternoon. It comes a day after rebels seized another checkpoint near the border with Iraq, killing 22 Syrian soldiers as Iraqi soldiers watched.The latest escalation comes a day after the UN Security Council voted to extend the UN observer mission for a "final" 30 days.If the violence decreases, the UN Security Council resolution allows for the possibility of an extension.