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Sunday, 28 November, 1999, 09:56 GMT
Middle East prays for rain
Saddam Hussein wants a date set for nationwide prayer Saddam Hussein wants a date set for nationwide prayer

Leaders of several Middle Eastern countries have asked their people to pray for rain after one of the worst droughts in the region for many years.

Rainfall is badly needed across a wide region from the Mediterranean to the Gulf.

In Jordan and Israel prayers have already been credited with bringing drought-breaking downpours.

Threat to livestock

In Iraq, President Saddam Hussein called on the religious affairs ministry to prepare appropriate prayers, and to set a date for a nationwide plea for deliverance.

King Fahd: tradition of the Prophet King Fahd: Tradition of the Prophet
Baghdad said the worst drought since independence in 1932, combined with the UN embargo imposed on Iraq in 1990, posed a serious threat to agriculture and livestock.

The government has accused the United States and the UK of blocking contracts for agricultural equipment necessary to counter the effect of the drought.

In neighbouring Saudi Arabia King Fahd called on his people to offer up prayers in every district "because of this year's delay in the rain and in conformance with the tradition of the Prophet Mohammed".

The country's seasonal rains, due at the end of October, still have not arrived.

Prayers answered

Rain fell in Israel for the first time in nine months - one of the worst droughts in the country's history - after 50 ultra-orthodox rabbis circled the Holy Land seven times in an aeroplane reciting an ancient blessing, and blowing ram's horns.

The six-hour ritual was based on the Bible story of Joshua marching his troops around Jericho seven times to bring about the defeat of the city.

The participants had fasted for three days and visited the grave of an important Kabbalist in northern Israel to ensure the success of their blessing.

In Jordan, Prince Hassan won applause from hundreds of religious and political leaders attending conference on religion and peace after thanking them for their prayers.

Small livestock farmers have been among the worst affected Small livestock farmers have been among the worst affected
"Distinguished guests, it is not only a part of our beliefs that you are blessed as peacemakers but that you are also blessed as rainmakers," he said, departing from a pre-written text.

The ministry of religious affairs, and Jordan's trade unions, also held special prayers for rain.

The country, which receives water from Syria and Israel, has been plagued by drought for the past year.

In September, Jordan signed an agreement with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) worth $4m to help cope with its severe effects.

The WFP said cereal and other food crops had been decimated, and that farmers were facing financial ruin.
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Drought hits Jordan and Syria
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