Roundup: Israel marks 76th Independence Day amid war, internal divisions-Xinhua

Roundup: Israel marks 76th Independence Day amid war, internal divisions

Source: Xinhua

Editor: huaxia

2024-05-14 23:11:45

JERUSALEM, May 14 (Xinhua) -- Israel held a low-key celebration of its 76th Independence Day on Tuesday amid its ongoing military operations in the Gaza Strip, protests against the government, and deepening internal rifts.

With Israel's full-on conflict with Hamas persisting for more than seven months, some key festivities were canceled, including the traditional fireworks shows, public concerts, and singalong gatherings. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) decided to cancel the annual Air Force flyover and Navy flotilla in the Red Sea off the coast of Eilat city.

"This year, we mark a different Independence Day," President Isaac Herzog said during a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on Tuesday. "These days we are full of the pain of bereavement, pain for the wounded, the pain for civilians uprooted from their homes, the pain for the hostages," he said.

The Independence Day began on Monday night with a ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, the country's national cemetery. The national flag was raised from half-mast to full-mast, marking the transition from the solemn Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror to the Independence Day celebration.

The official ceremony, known in Israel as the Torch-Lighting Ceremony, used to be broadcast live every year. This year, it was prerecorded for TV viewers. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the decision was made for fear of the ceremony being interrupted by anti-government protesters.

During the ceremony in Jerusalem, families of hostages held an alternative ceremony at the Shuni Amphitheater in Binyamina, north of Tel Aviv, with about 1,500 supporters attending it and thousands more watching it in rallies across the country, according to a statement released by the organizers.

The ceremony began with chilling recordings of residents of southern Israel calling emergency services and begging for help as Hamas militants raided their communities on Oct. 7, 2023, killing about 1,200 people, torching homes, and taking about 250 people as hostages. In places throughout the south, security forces did not arrive for hours. A total of 132 people are still being held in Gaza, according to Israeli figures, with Hamas saying dozens of them are dead.

Israel responded to the surprise attack by launching a massive onslaught on the Gaza Strip, killing more than 35,000 people, mainly civilians, according to a tally by health authorities in Gaza. Israeli forces also have been engaged in cross-border fighting with Hezbollah along the Israel-Lebanon border.

In Tel Aviv, thousands of protesters rallied in the city center, calling for the release of the hostages. Elsewhere in Tel Aviv, hundreds of others marched, calling on the government to resign. Rallies were held in squares and junctions across the country, urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sign a deal for the release of the hostages.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu was absent from at least three national ceremonies that he customarily attends, including the Israel Prize award ceremony, an annual event recognizing outstanding contributions in various fields such as science, arts, and humanities in Israel. The ceremony was attended by Education Minister Yoav Kisch, who was heckled by protesters in the audience shouting at him, "Shame!" and "Sign a hostage release deal!"

Meanwhile, Netanyahu visited wounded IDF soldiers in the Sheba Hospital outside Tel Aviv and promised them Israel would continue the fighting in Gaza "until victory," according to a statement released by his office.

Despite mounting international pressure, the Israeli government pressed forward with its attack on Rafah, the southernmost city of the Gaza Strip, where more than 1 million Palestinians sought refuge since the beginning of the ongoing conflict.

On Tuesday, Israeli tanks marched towards the center of Rafah, a local source in Gaza told Xinhua. The source said the tanks had reached the Al-Geneina neighborhood and were advancing towards the city center "amid heavy gunfire."