Israelis across the country stood for a minute of silence at 8 pm Sunday, when the siren marking the opening of Memorial Day was sounded.
Immediately following the siren, the state ceremony commemorating the fallen soldiers and victims of terror commenced at the Western wall plaza, and flags throughout Israel were lowered to half-mast.
Ceremony at Western Wall commences (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who spoke at the service, referred in his speech to the heavy toll claimed by the Second Lebanon War. "The last year has been hard on the State and the IDF. Names had been added to the memorial plaques – 233 more bereaved families have joined the great family of bereavement. The price is too heavy to bear."
Ashkenazi also commented on the criticism leveled at the army in wake of the war, and said, "We have thoroughly investigated the recent war, and we are now engaged in implementing its lessons. The inquiries revealed the acts of heroism and the fighters' outstanding devotion, and once these stories are revealed to the public, no one will be able to claim that this generation is deteriorating."
"As someone who stood too many times on the threshold of families whose world collapsed in an instant, as a commander and a combatant, I wish to tell you: There is nothing more accursed, more difficult and more painful than war," he stated.
"We are not an army that seeks war, but a defensive army. But if a war is forced on us, we shall not back down. We will do whatever it takes so that the people of Israel can sit peacefully in their homes," Ashkenazi concluded.
The number of Israeli soldiers killed in service since 1860, the year when Jews first left Jerusalem's walls to establish neighbourhoods outside, is 22,305. Of the 233 soldiers killed over the past year, 119 were killed in the Second Lebanon War.
Several hours ago, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert opened Memorial Day events at a memorial service at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem.
"Our duty to the fallen and their families is to make every possible effort to traverse the long path which leads to preventing war and to peace," Olmert told those assembled.