- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 21, 2010

JERUSALEM | Israelis fired up barbecues in packed campgrounds and beaches across the country Tuesday as they celebrated the 62nd anniversary of the creation of the Jewish state.

The air force and navy put on displays, including a helicopter overflight of the president’s residence in Jerusalem.

President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi staged a singalong of Israeli songs at the presidential residence.

Celebrations began at sundown Monday with fireworks in honor of Israel’s founding on May 14, 1948, corresponding this year to April 20, according to the Jewish calendar.

The occupied West Bank was sealed off from Israel and annexed Arab East Jerusalem for the duration of Israel’s only secular public holiday.

President Obama released a statement to honor the anniversary and affirm his country’s “unbreakable bond” with Israel.

He said he looked forward “to continuing our efforts with Israel to achieve comprehensive peace and security in the region, including a two-state solution” with the Palestinians.

“We once again honor the extraordinary achievements of the people of Israel, and their deep and abiding friendship with the American people,” he said.

Ties between Israel and its main ally have been deeply strained as Mr. Netanyahu has rebuffed U.S. and Palestinian demands for a halt to settlement construction in annexed Arab East Jerusalem.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, one of just two Arab states to have signed peace treaties with Israel, also used the occasion to call for renewed peace efforts.

“I am pleased to congratulate you on the occasion of your Independence Day celebrations,” he said in a letter to Mr. Peres.

“I would like to take this opportunity to call on you once again to redouble your efforts to get the Middle East peace process back on track in order to end the cycle of violence and bloodshed.”

Meanwhile, thousands of Israel’s Arab citizens marked the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” that attended the Jewish state’s creation, when some 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Protesters carrying Palestinian flags and signs with the names of destroyed Arab villages marched to the site of the village of Maskah, emptied in 1948, to demand the “right of return” for those exiled after the creation of Israel.

Today at least 4.7 million U.N.-registered refugees live in camps in the occupied territories, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, and their fate is one of the thorniest issues in the decades-old Middle East conflict.

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