Israel stops to honor fallen soldiers and terror victims

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel paused to honor its fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism Sunday evening as it began commemorating its annual Memorial Day.

Sirens wailed across the country at 8 p.m. prompting Israelis to stop in their tracks and stand silently with heads bowed for a minute to remember the dead.

It is one of the most somber dates on Israel's calendar. Bereaved families visit cemeteries and attend ceremonies. Places of entertainment shut and TV and radio stations air war stories and melancholy music.

Speaking at the opening ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in front of families of those killed, President Reuven Rivlin eulogized the fallen.

"We know that there is a price to be paid for our existence here, for our liberty," Rivlin said. "You paid the price. The price of our liberty purchased in blood."

He said the military must be vigilant and always "standing ready" to defend the country. Israel must "always be engaged, not just in preventing the next war, but in preventing all the coming wars, using every tool and every channel at our disposal," he said.

Israel has fought half a dozen wars with Arab countries since its establishment in 1948 and has battled two Palestinian uprisings as well as militant attacks. Military service is mandatory and after decades of conflict many Israelis have personally experienced the grief of war or know someone who has.

The memorial comes amid a wave of Palestinian attacks that killed 42 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British student, mainly in stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks, since September 2015. In that time, Israeli forces killed some 244 Palestinians, mostly identified as attackers by Israel.

The sad atmosphere ends sharply at sundown Tuesday, when in jarring contrast, Israelis take to the streets for Independence Day celebrations with dancing, fireworks, parties and BBQs.