JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israelis stood silent for two minutes while sirens wailed across the country on Monday marking an annual day of remembrance for fallen troops and slain civilians.
Speaking at a ceremony at Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to return the remains of two soldiers believed to have been killed in the 2014 Gaza war.
Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, is believed to be holding the remains of the soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.
Over the past year, 60 Israeli civilians and security force personnel were killed, according to the defence ministry.
In total, Israel remembers 23,544 servicemen and civilians killed since 1860, the year it considers to be the start of the conflict with the Palestinians, when Jews founded the first neighbourhood outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Remembrance ceremonies began at sunset Sunday and continue until nightfall Monday, when the sombre mood gives way to raucous celebrations for Independence Day.
It will mark 69 years since the declaration of the Israeli state in 1948 as the national home of the Jewish people.
“Tonight, when the flag returns to the top of the mast, we’ll know that the state of Israel is true consolation, the fulfilment of a dream of many generations,” Netanyahu said.
New statistics figures released ahead of Independence Day showed Israel’s population now stands at 8.68 million.
Of that number, 6,484,000, or 74.7 percent, are Jews. Another 1,808,000, or 20.8 percent, are Arabs.