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"We sanctify life, not death," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday during a Mount Herzl ceremony for victims of terror attacks.
"I cannot help but think of how deep the moral gap is between us and our enemies," he said. "We make every possible effort to limit and focus our attacks on the terrorists and we never intentionally harm the innocent. We don't have jihadists, shahidim or mothers who joyfully send their children with bomb belts to blow themselves up in packed buses or in busy malls."
Olmert paid tribute to the bereaved families, saying he felt their great and deep pain. "We will continue our uncompromising fight against terror not only for our policy of achieving peace but as a moral duty to those who lost loved ones," he added, emphasizing, however, that Remembrance Day was "a somber day, not a day of hate."
Turning to the terror victims' families, Olmert said that "we must all remember that the hands of the murderers are directed at all of us. Any of us could be a target, I therefore embrace you with a strengthening and consoling hand."
The prime minister said he "cannot fail to remember" the numerous Jerusalem terror attacks "to which I myself was a witness."
He went on to say that Israel "does not negate the right of any people to live in peace."
Olmert stressed that there were "serious negotiations" being held with the Palestinian Authority, saying the conflict "in no way lacked a solution" and that "the main principles in order to settle the conflict are not very far away from accomplishment."
"There are leaders among our neighbors that understand this and we are conducting serious dealings with them. Arriving at a peace agreement depends on joining all those who crave peace in the region against the unholy alliance that is sustaining the axis of terror," continued the prime minister.
Referring to Hamas, Olmert said Israel would never give in or negotiate with a group that fights for Israel's destruction and refuses to recognize its right to exist.
At an earlier ceremony for fallen soldiers, following a two-minute memorial siren, Olmert said that "the siren sounded across the country and the clock of life in Israel stopped for one minute."
"Remembrance Day is a sad day but without strife and very Israeli," Olmert said. "Anyone who identifies with the flagâ€¦ even if he is on the other end of the planet will identify with this dayâ€¦ No one in Israel is estranged from the weight of loss."
"Only you, the families, take part in the world of the loved ones who are gone," he continued. "Dear families, I cannot console you with words, for they do not offer relief for the sorrow.
"Our entire national existenceâ€¦ depends on our willingness and ability to defend ourselves, to defend our just opinions and our vital interests and to give battle to those who attack usâ€¦ Your sons and daughters gave their lives for a supreme cause," he said. "Peace and not war is our ends and the thing we long for."
"'Ask for peace and seek it out' is the directive of our ancestors and our heritage," he said, adding that "our political actions and our willingness to make necessary compromises is also the directive of the fallen and the directive of the pain and anguish in the hearts of the bereaved families."
"However," he said, "Another imperative is the imperative of life. We will defend Israel's security with all our might, without hesitation."
The siren was followed by official Remembrance Day ceremonies at 43 military cemeteries, including the Mount Herzl ceremonies attended by Olmert, President Shimon Peres, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and other dignitaries.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak participated in a ceremony in honor of the fallen at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in Tel Aviv.
"Our army continues to be a defensive wall protecting Israel from its enemies," Barak said in his address. "We still have not arrived at peace and quiet. It is still incumbent upon us to fortify this defensive wall against those who conspire against us. The fallen are the crown of the country. Israel is strong, confident and proud of her achievements on her 60th Independence Day, but she mourns the loss of her sons.
"Under the stone paths around us many of my friends, commanders and subordinates are buried," he continued. "I remember each and every one of them from our first meeting until our last battle and, in the interim, the fondness that developed between us. I carry their memory with me in immeasurable and unending sadness."
Etgar Lefkovitz contributed to this report
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