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The State of Israel paused Tuesday to mourn its fallen soldiers as the nation marked Remembrance Day and honored the memory of those who lost their lives in defense of the state.
A two-minute siren rang out across the country at 11 a.m., marking the start of a series of ceremonies at scores of military cemeteries throughout the country.
"Remembrance Day is a day of cleansing. On the verge of 58 years of independence, we will banish all dissonance and conflict. We will remember our fallen comrades - in arms, in sacrifice, and in love of the homeland - by putting aside views, ethnicity, Jews, Druse, Muslims and Christians as one," Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at a ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl military cemetery.
Memorial services for Remembrance Day began throughout the country on Monday night.
"There is no other day of the year where our hearts beat as one as on this day; there is no genuine unity which can compare to that expressed so intensely as on Remembrance Day with a force that encompasses every soul in Israel," Olmert said at a memorial ceremony at Jerusalem's Ammunition Hill.
[For a Jerusalem Online video of events click here]
"I know there are no words which I can say to ease your pain, but I commit myself to you... I will do all that I can to strengthen the security of the State of Israel, and put us on the path to peace," he said.
"It is because of the fallen soldiers the State of Israel was established and was able to develop and flourish," said Katsav at the official state ceremony at the Western Wall on Monday night. "The peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan were made possible because of them," he added.
A total of 22,123 servicemen and women have fallen in defense of the Land of Israel since record-keeping began in 1860, when the first Jews moved outside of Jerusalem's Old City walls, including 138 members of the security forces killed in the last year alone.
The somber half-hour ceremony at the Western Wall plaza, which was broadcast live on all Israeli television channels and radio stations, began with a minute-long siren, followed by the lowering of the flag to half mast and the lighting of a memorial torch.
As the mournful siren wailed marking the start of the most somber day on the secular calendar, a group of soldiers stood in attention amid throngs of members of bereaved families.
Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said in his remarks that Israel should not take its independence for granted, since the voice of its enemies has only grown stronger.
"Only we carry the responsibility for our fate and we must be strong," Halutz said. "Our unity as a nation is essential in order to fortify our position."
The memorial service for bereaved families included the recitation of a chapter of psalms and kaddish, and concluded with the tear-choked singing of the national anthem, Hatikva.
Since the beginning of the latest wave of Palestinian violence five-and-a-half years ago, 794 civilians have also been killed in terror attacks, including 45 who were murdered in the last year, according to figures released by the National Insurance Institute.
About 18 percent of the civilians killed were children, while another 18% were immigrants who had moved to Israel since 1990.
Remembrance Day will draw to a close Tuesday at 8 p.m. with the traditional torch-lighting ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl, marking the sudden transition from sadness and sorrow to joy and celebration with the start of Israel's 58th Independence Day.
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