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Israel Celebrates 60th Anniversary

Israelis from all walks of life celebrated their country's 60th anniversary with military parades, musical concerts and the favorite Israeli Independence Day pastime: barbeques. VOA's Jim Teeple reports the celebrations took place as Israeli intelligence services warned of about a dozen terrorist threats against the Jewish state - a reminder that 60 years after it declared Independence, Israel's security remains the country's main preoccupation.

Military preparedness guaranteed Israel's survival 60 years ago - something Israelis have never forgotten.

Celebrations this year showcased the country's military might, a reminder to Israelis, if one was needed, that their country should remain the pre-eminent military power in the Middle East - in the face of threats from Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and other enemies of the Jewish state.

The cost of the celebrations - budgeted at $28 million has many Israelis grumbling.

Ron Avni, an earthquake expert at Ben Gurion University in the southern city of Beersheba organized a petition drive against the festivities. Avni says the money could have been better spent.

"First let them find a budget for all the things that the country needs," said Avni. "Money should not be wasted on festivities whose primary purpose is to give a stage to the politicians."

Israelis are also preoccupied this Independence Day by allegations of political corruption surrounding Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Police have begun a new investigation into the prime minister's ties to an American businessman linked to past questionable campaign contributions in Israel.

The director of a leading conference center in Jerusalem, Uri Dromi, says Israelis are used to questions about their prime minister, but the latest allegations come at a bad time.

"This series of scandals really bothers Israelis. Especially on Independence Day when you want to focus on the celebrations, festivities and achievements, and all people do is look at the internet and try and get from sources what is going on with this recent scandal."

Many Israelis fear that Mr. Olmert's negotiations with the Palestinians could be put on hold if his government loses support because of the investigation.

Meanwhile, Palestinians marked Israel's Independence Day with observances to commemorate what they describe as the al-Naqba, or the catastrophe - their description of the loss of their homes after 700,000 Palestinians fled the fighting in 1948.

Speaking at one such observance, moderate Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad said current Israeli-Palestinian talks were full of problems, but that was all the more reason for Palestinians to never give up the effort for a state of their own.