CAIRO — The start of the holy month of Ramadan next week is causing a muddle of time changes in the Middle East. Egypt and the Palestinians are falling back an hour far earlier than usual, trying to reduce daylight hours for observant Muslims who neither eat nor drink until sunset in sweltering summer temperatures.
Politics is also adding a twist. The Palestinian militant group Hamas ended 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. He said the Palestinian Authority chose midnight Sunday because Ramadan is expected to begin Monday.
Egypt also moved its clocks back one hour Thursday, a full month earlier than usual. The switch will put Egypt two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and at least an hour later than its Mideast neighbors.
The creeping-up of the clock change reflects the complications of the lunar Islamic calendar. Ramadan comes about 11 days earlier each year. Currently, that brings it 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 top 90.
Egypt's decision will enable its people to have their "iftar" evening meal, breaking the fast, an hour earlier.
Israel goes off daylight saving time on Oct. 5, before the Jewish holy day Yom Kippur. It makes it a bit easier by reducing the number of daytime hours Jews go without food or water.