Obama in Ramadan Message: U.S. Unyielding in Support for Palestinian State

U.S. president sends special message to Muslim world to mark beginning of Muslim holy month.

The United States is "unyielding" in its support for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a special video message to the Muslim world on Friday to mark the beginning of Ramadan.

Obama used the occasion to reiterate his desire to mend relations between the United States and Muslim countries, an effort he began with a major speech in Cairo in June to the Muslim world.

"Beyond America's borders, we are committed to keeping our responsibility to build a world that is more peaceful and secure," Obama said in the message, which was posted on the White House Web site.

"That is why we are responsibly ending the war in Iraq. That is why we are isolating violent extremists while empowering the people in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we are unyielding in our support for a two-state solution that recognizes the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security.

"And that is why America will always stand for the universal rights of all people to speak their mind, practice their religion, contribute fully to society and have confidence in the rule of law."

Obama added that the U.S. will continue to isolate violent extremists while seeking to empower Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan and "responsibly ending the war in Iraq."

"America will always stand for the universal rights of all people to speak their mind, practice their religion, contribute fully to society and have confidence in the rule of law," Obama said.

Meanwhile, to mark Ramadan, Egyptian fruit sellers have named their best dates of the year after Obama in a tribute to the American leader for his outreach to the Muslim world.

Dates are a traditional food for Ramadan - which begins Saturday in most of the Islamic world - since the Islamic Prophet Muhammad is said to have used them to break the month's sunrise-to-sunset fast each evening.

In Egypt, shops have created a new tradition of naming their best and worst dates to catch attention and boost sales - giving a little reflection of the political mood.

Obama's vault to the top of the Egyptian date-scale marks a shift in the public mood in Egypt since the reign of his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose name was given to the worst quality dates in Egypt in past Ramadans.

"We love Obama and so we named our best dates for him," said Atif Hashim at his busy shop in downtown Cairo.

Huge barrels in his shop were piled with Obama dates, selling for just under $2.50 a pound ($5 a kilogram). For an additional dollar, there is an even better date, labeled on a sign as Super Obama.

"We put a sweet date in Mr. Obama's mouth and a message in his ear," Hashim said. "Please help to bring peace to the world. We have a lot of hope in you."

Hashim named his poorer dates after Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman, who is particularly disliked in Egypt for once saying its president, Hosni Mubarak, could go to hell.

Other low-quality dates were named after Lieberman's predecessor, Tzipi Livni, and after Bush. They all go for about 17 cents a pound (36 cents a kilogram).

In 2006, many sellers in Egypt named their best dates after the leader of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, whose popularity soared among Arabs during the Second Lebanon War with Israel.

During the lunar month of Ramadan, observant Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from sunrise to sunset. It is believed that God began revealing the Quran to Muhammad during Ramadan, and the faithful are supposed to spend the month in religious reflection, prayer and remembrance of the poor.

It's also a time of celebrations, late nights out with friends and family and elaborate meals for iftar, the sunset dinner that breaks the fast.

This year, Ramadan starts in August for the first time in 33 years - meaning a long, hot day for those fasting. In a bid to bring up the time for iftar, the meal to break the fast, Egypt went off daylight savings time on Friday.

The fast begins Saturday for most of the Mideast and Asia, although Libya, Turkey, and some Lebanese Shiites began fasting Friday. The month begins when each Muslim country's Islamic authorities sight the crescent moon that marks the beginning of the lunar month - sometimes using only the naked eye, leading to some discrepancies in the timing.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, Palestinians decorated their houses with lights in the shape of crescents and stars and shops began preparing special pastries and traditional Ramadan drinks like kharoub, made of carobs.

The Israel Defense Forces said it would keep checkpoints open longer hours to allow more people to cross.

In Hamas-controlled Gaza City, officials hung signs reading "Welcome Ramadan" and provided mosques with large carpets to accommodate the increased number of worshippers.

Shops sold little electric lamps, a traditional children's toy during Ramadan - made in China and brought through smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border to circumvent the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt after Hamas seized power two years ago.