Ashkenazi: Only with a strong army and negotiations, will we be able to rest.
By TALIA DEKEL, NOGA MARTIN
A minute-long siren sounded across the nation at 8 p.m. Sunday, marking the beginning of Israel's 59th Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism.
"Tonight, Israel weeps," acting President Dalia Itzik told bereaved families who attended the state ceremony at the Western Wall.
Itzik described the loss of Jewish, Arab, Beduin and Druse soldiers over the years as "a pact of blood."
"We have no words of comfort," she said. "But we embrace you, the families, with endless love." Those who fell defending Israel, Itzik said, "would want us to be united."
This year, as every year, the IDF is "the wall that defends us... The IDF is our rock."
While the losses weighed on Israelis, Itzik said, the nation was not tired. The struggle for its survival continued, she said, against enemies who still "have not made peace with our existence." "I am proud to be the daughter of a people who have an army like the IDF," Itzik declared.
"We came to remember their [the fallen soldiers] stories. I leave you this evening with a feeling of pride," said IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.
"The IDF is a moral army; we are a strong and moral society. The last year has been difficult and painful for us all. Names were added to those that we have been lost; 233 families have joined the list of those who mourn.
"When will we finally arrive at a state of rest? My answer is that only with the IDF, a strong and intimidating force, can we achieve this," he said.
Ashkenazi said peace could only be achieved via the "negotiation table."
"I speak as a commander who led soldiers into battle, as a commander and as a fighter; I tell you that there is nothing more painful than war. We are a defensive army. We will do all that we need to keep Israel's citizens safe in their homes and on our borders.
"The last war was thoroughly investigated, and we will learn from its lessons... and apply what we have learned. When the stories of each and every individual... young and old, on their mandatory service and while on reserve duty are shared, no one will be able to deny their heroism.
"We remember our fallen, on this day, and every day. The IDF is also part of the bereaved families," he said.
Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke to bereaved families at a ceremony at Jerusalem's Ammunition Hill.
"We stand in silence as we remember the heavy, painful price that accompanies our struggle for existence as a Jewish, democratic, sovereign and independent country in the Land of Israel," the prime minister said.
Over the past year, Olmert said, Israel was reminded that this fight involved "struggle and heartache."
"Even today, there are those who cannot resign themselves to our existence and seek to destroy Israel's sovereignty by harming its citizens and its soldiers. Once more... we were forced to fight and defend the state," he said, referring to the Second Lebanon War.
"Even today, we continue working toward and hoping for the return the three kidnapped soldiers. We also hope and pray for the full recovery of the wounded," Olmert said. "For the 59 years of [the state's] existence... [we have] paid for all our futures and for the hope to live in our country in peace with the blood of the best of our children."
"You, the bereaved families, have paid the terrible price of this hope," Olmert told the families, promising them that the memory of their loved ones would "remain etched in the heart of the nation."
On Monday, 43 military cemeteries will host smaller Remembrance Day ceremonies for the 22,305 men and women who have fallen defending the Land of Israel since 1860 - the year the first Jews left Jerusalem's Old City to establish new neighborhoods.
Of the 233 soldiers who died from all causes over the past year, 119 were killed in the Second Lebanon War.
On Tuesday, the main ceremony will take place at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl military cemetery. A two-minute siren will sound at 11 a.m. and a ceremony for overseas volunteers who fought and died during the War of Independence will be held at the Mahal Memorial near the Sha'ar Hagai Junction west of Jerusalem.
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