US President Barack Obama extended his best wishes Monday to Muslims beginning the holy fasting month of Ramadan, using the occasion to urge people to help victims of drought and famine in Africa.

His Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also extended good wishes to the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, while blasting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for orchestrating a deadly assault against protesters at the start of the holy month.

Ramadan is “a time of deep reflection and sacrifice. As in other faiths, fasting is used to increase spirituality, discipline, and consciousness of God’s mercy,” Obama said in a statement.

“It is also a reminder of the importance of reaching out to those less fortunate. The heartbreaking accounts of lost lives and the images of families and children in Somalia and the Horn of Africa struggling to survive remind us of our common humanity and compel us to act,” he added.

“Now is the time for nations and peoples to come together to avert an even worse catastrophe by offering support and assistance to on-going relief efforts.”

Aid groups have scaled up operations to help millions of people devastated by a harsh drought in the Horn of Africa region. Somalia has been the country the hardest hit by the region’s worst drought in decades.

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