Israel remembers fallen soldiers, civilians

2013-04-14 22:12
Israeli riot police walk at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound - one of Islam's holiest sites. (Ahmad Ghabrali, AFP)

Israeli riot police walk at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound - one of Islam's holiest sites. (Ahmad Ghabrali, AFP)

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Jerusalem - Israel was marking Memorial Day from sunset on Sunday, remembering fallen troops and civilian deaths in terror attacks.

Minute-long sirens sounded nationwide at 20:00 (17:00 GMT), marking the beginning of the memorial day.

According to numbers published by the Defence Ministry, since the year 1860 - when Jews founded the first neighbourhood in Jerusalem outside of the Old City and Israel considers the beginning of the Israel-Arab conflict - 23 085 soldiers and members of the security forces died in the line of duty, including 92 in the past year.

An additional 2 493 civilians were killed in terror attacks in Israel and abroad since 1860, of them 10 in the past year, according to data from the Foreign Ministry.

"Since our inception as a people, we had to fight for our freedom and our existence," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a Sunday afternoon ceremony.

"Today, too, there are those who threaten to annihilate us - they haven't succeeded in the past, they won't ever succeed", he said.

"If we have no choice, we will grasp our swords and go to battle," Netanyahu said.

"We are not belligerent, we are not bloodthirsty. Our hand is extended in peace to all nations and states, far and near, but over the centuries we learned that only a strong defence force will ensure that we are not harmed."

President Shimon Peres, accompanied by army chief Benny Gantz, was to light a torch at a memorial service at the Western Wall in the Old City.

On Monday, sirens will sound nationwide for two minutes at 11:00  (08:00 GMT), commencing ceremonies at dozens of cemeteries and military memorial sites across Israel.

Memorial Day is followed by Israel's Independence Day, marking 65 years since the declaration of statehood on 14 May, 1948, which is celebrated according to the Jewish calendar and this year falls on 16 April.

Palestinians mark the occasion on 15 May, when they commemorate the Nakba, or "catastrophe" of the creation of Israel, which sparked the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

Read more on:    shimon peres  |  benjamin netanyahu  |  israel  |  war  |  middle east peace  |  religion

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