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People gather for Iftar (breaking fast), organised by Adaleh Foundation, amidst damaged buildings during the holy month of Ramadan in the rebel-held besieged town of Douma to the east of Damascus, Syria, June 18, 2017. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh/File Photo


By Bassam Khabieh

DOUMA, Syria (Reuters) - Against a backdrop of crumbling buildings in the rebel-held Douma district east of Damascus, hungry Syrians sat down together on the rubble-strewn streets to break fast with a free Ramadan meal.

On the menu was minced meat, rice, beans, dates, apricots, yoghurt and fruit juices, enjoyed by around 700 grateful adults and children on Tuesday evening in the besieged area.

Most sat at long plastic tables, decorated with red cloths, to enjoy the delights provided by the Adaleh Foundation, meaning justice foundation, with others grabbing spaces on rugs by the rubble.

The charity, founded in 2012 to help those in eastern Ghouta affected by the ongoing war, planned to host 10 dinners, or Iftars, in different locations in the opposition-held area east of Damascus over the last 10 days of Ramadan, which ends on Saturday.

The food, purchased at local markets and prepared in soup kitchens by a team of 40 foundation staff, was welcomed by 11-year-old Rou’a, who sat on a dusty rug with more than 20 friends to enjoy a post fast Iftar meal.

"My friends and I in the street used to play all the time, pretending to prepare coffee or food and sit in front of the house to welcome the guests," she said.

"Today it turned to reality as we are sitting in front of our homes and eating as if we are on a trip."

Douma, home to approximately 400,000 people, is the main centre of the Eastern Ghouta rebel stronghold to the east of the capital which Syrian government forces have blockaded since 2013, often leading to food and medical shortages.

To help with security, the Iftars were not advertised, with news of the locations instead spreading last minute via community leaders.

"The difficulties we face with this type of project are the logistics of preparing the place, the required tools and food, which is lacking in the markets because of the siege," Adaleh Foundation team leader Alaa Abu Jaafar told Reuters.

Each meal costs $2 and is funded by donations from non-governmental organisations across the Arab world and Europe, Jaafar said.

Neighbourhoods deemed the most affected by the six-year conflict were chosen as locations, with hundreds turning out each night, he added.

Ahmed, 10, was delighted his Douma neighbourhood was selected to host on Tuesday.

"I spent a good time with my friends, this is the first time we have Iftar all together on one table," he said.

(Click on http://reut.rs/2sYeFC2 to see a related photo essay)

(Writing by Patrick Johnston in LONDON; Editing by Toby Davis)

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