KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia on Monday marked a solemn Hari Raya as families of those aboard downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 mourned the dead.
Prime Minister Najib Razak expressed his "extreme sadness, most profound sympathy and deepest condolences" to MH17 families, as well as relatives of those aboard another Malaysia Airlines jet, MH370, that went missing on March 8.
"Of course, I am able to feel and imagine what they would be going through when, upon waking up on the morning of Eid al-Fitr, their loved ones are not with them," he said in a televised address late Sunday.
Forty-three Malaysian passengers and crew were among the 298 people aboard flight MH17, which is believed to have been shot down by a missile over violence-wracked eastern Ukraine on July 17. None on board survived.
Hari Raya, or Eid al-Fitr, Islam's biggest festival, marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and is usually a joyful time of family gatherings and feasting. Some 60 per cent of Malaysia's 28 million people are Muslim.
Najib, a Muslim himself, had said he would try to bring back the Malaysian victims' bodies before Eid, but officials have said it could take weeks more as the remains so far recovered are in Netherlands for identification and forensic work.
In his speech, Najib reiterated his promise to bring back the remains "as soon as possible for burial".
Some remains are still believed to be at the crash site.
Most of those aboard the Boeing 777 were Dutch, and Amsterdam is leading the investigation into the disaster.
'I won't celebrate without you'
Diyana Yazeera, daughter of MH17 chief stewardess Dora Shahila Kassim, posted on Twitter late Sunday that Eid, referring to it in the Malay language as Raya, would not be the same.
"Mummy, this year's raya and the upcoming ones, well will not be raya. Im not gonna celebrate it without you," she posted. "Stop asking me to be strong. It's so hard to do."
Zulkifli Abdul Rahman, brother-in-law of the other MH17 chief stewardess Azrina Yakob, said Azrina and her family, including her two young children, had planned to celebrate Eid in northern Malaysia.
"Without her presence this Raya will not be as happy," he told AFP at his home near the airport earlier. "At all family functions, she made things very lively."
In a mark of respect, Malaysia's government also cancelled all so-called "open houses", where Najib and other ministers usually host members of the public on the first day of Eid.
But Najib in his speech encouraged Malaysians to still visit each other and share food as is customary, as many families returned to their home towns to mark the day.
Monday's front page of the biggest English-language daily The Star showed the iconic blue batik of the Malaysia Airlines cabin crew uniform, and read "MH370 and MH17: Our thoughts and prayers are with those who lost their loved ones".
Malaysia Airlines' MH370 lost contact en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard, including 50 Malaysian passengers and crew.
It is believed to have veered off course and gone down in the southern Indian Ocean on March 8, but no trace of the plane has yet been found.