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Israelis Celebrate 58th Independence Day With Picnics, Military Displays


Israelis are celebrating their 58th Independence Day Wednesday, with many people picnicking in the countryside after an evening of fireworks and dancing.

Israel's air force is preparing a flyover from northern Israel to the south, while the navy shows off its warships along the Mediterranean coast.

Thousands of soldiers and police are on patrol around the country, following numerous alerts about supposed attack plans by Palestinian militants.

Israeli forces also are enforcing a ban on Palestinian workers entering Israel from the West Bank and Gaza. Closure of the Palestinian territories was declared more than a month ago (in mid-March).

The festivities began at sundown Tuesday with a ceremony on Jerusalem's Mount Herzl that also marked the end of Israel's Memorial Day, honoring fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism.

Soldiers marched in formation as fireworks lit the sky and young dancers formed the shape of the Star of David. A passage was read from the Biblical Book of Isaiah, speaking of the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel.

Speaking at the ceremony, the incoming deputy prime minister, Shimon Peres, appealed to the Palestinians to abandon terrorism and make peace with Israel. He also issued a warning to Iran, saying Israel is stronger than ever and knows how to defend itself.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.
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