|Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather around a fire as they burn leavened items in a final preparation before Passover in Jerusalem|
Israelis are celebrating the biblical feast of Passover under tight security. The week-long holiday is taking place under the shadow of Israel's planned pullout from the Gaza Strip this summer.
Israelis gathered with family and friends for the festive Passover meal, called the seder, recounting the biblical story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt 3,500 years ago.
Security is tight across Israel. Authorities have sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip, barring Palestinians from entering the country. Israeli spokesman Mark Regev says Palestinian militants could try to disrupt the week-long Passover holiday.
"We are most concerned that violent, radical groups, who really don't have an interest in a process of reconciliation, moving forward, that they will, in fact, use the holiday season here in Israel to do some sort of outrageous terrorist attack that will cripple this process before we move forward," said Mark Regev.
It has happened before. Everyone here remembers the Palestinian suicide bombing at a Passover seder three years ago that killed 29 people in the coastal city of Netanya. That sparked an Israeli invasion of the West Bank, including an assault on the headquarters of the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.
Passover is also taking place under the shadow of Israel's planned pullout from the Gaza Strip this summer. Thousands of Israelis from around the country are celebrating the holiday in Gaza, in solidarity with the eight-thousand settlers slated for evacuation.
Gaza resident Rachel Sapperstein told VOA that they are praying for a miracle, namely, the cancellation of the Gaza pullout.
"We're waiting for the Almighty to do what He has to do, just as He did so in the days of our life in Egypt, when we were slaves," said Rachel Sapperstein. "We went from slavery to nationhood, and this will be the same."
At the same time, the settlers admit that it might be their last Passover in Gaza.