Traffic across Israel ground to a halt for two minutes and pedestrians stood still as the nation paused yesterday to remember the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust.
As sirens wailed at 7am GMT, the activity on the normally bustling streets of Jerusalem abruptly stopped as people froze to observe a ritual, which takes place every year on Holocaust memorial day, which began at sundown on Sunday.
Radio and television stations, which have been broadcasting a string of programs on the Nazi genocide, also fell silent.
During the morning, top Israeli dignitaries, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres were to lay wreaths at a ceremony at Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.
Opening the memorial events at a ceremony on Sunday evening, Peres said that Israel and the world must remain ever vigilant against the global threat posed by anti-Semitism.
“We must not ignore any occurrence of anti-Semitism, any desecration of a synagogue, any tombstone smashed in a cemetery in which our families are buried,” he said.
“We must not ignore the rise of nuanced neo-Nazi extreme right-wing parties, which are a danger to every man and a warning to all peoples,” he added.
Netanyahu used the opportunity to once again warn of the existential threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to the Jewish state.
“Today we face again concrete facts and real danger. Iran calls for our destruction — it is developing a nuclear weapon,” he said, urging the world to take action.
“I call on the leaders of world powers to insist on a full dismantling of Iran’s capability to manufacture nuclear weapons and to persist until this goal is achieved,” he said.
In other developments, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called the Holocaust “the most heinous crime” of modern history, voicing a rare acknowledgement of Jewish suffering.
Abbas’ announcement on Sunday appeared to be aimed at reaching out to Israeli public opinion.
While Israel’s national Holocaust memorial said Abbas’ comments may be a step in the right direction, Netanyahu brushed them aside.
He said Abbas’ renewed attempts to reconcile with the Islamic militant movement Hamas raised doubts about the Palestinian leader’s intentions.
“President Abbas can’t have it both ways. He can’t say the Holocaust was terrible, but at the same time embrace those who deny the Holocaust and seek to perpetrate another destruction of the Jewish people,” Netanyahu told CNN.
Meanwhile, according to The Daily Beast news Web site, US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly told the influential Trilateral Commission on Friday: “A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens — or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.”
“Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two-state solution, which both leaders, even [on Thursday], said they remain deeply committed to,” Kerry was cited as saying.
Additional reporting by AP