Israel pauses on Memorial Day to remember the dead

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israel came to a halt for one minute on Tuesday as sirens sounded throughout the country to commemorate fallen soldiers and civilian victims of violence.

In this year's annual day of remembrance, the country paid tribute to 23,645 members of its security forces and 3,134 civilians killed since 1860.

That was the year Israel says its conflict with the Palestinians began after Jews settled in a district near the walls of Jerusalem's Old City.

Israel gained recognition as a state in 1948.

Officially known as "Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism", the commemoration will last until Wednesday evening, when Independence Day celebrations begin at nightfall.

"For 70 years we have held a shield and a sword in our hands while building the state of Israel," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a commemorative ceremony on Tuesday.

"We bow down to those whose blood has spilt in the homeland to heroically repel enemy attacks."

Solemn gatherings will be held Wednesday morning at cemeteries and war memorials across the country, giving way in the evening to 24 hours of street celebrations to mark the state's 70th anniversary.

Israel reveals its new population statistics each year on the same date.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, it now has 8.8 million residents -- three-quarters of them Jews and a fifth Arab Israelis, the descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land throughout the war marking Israel's creation.

Israel counts among its population approximately 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem, occupied and annexed by Israel, who do not hold Israeli citizenship.