Israel marks memorial day under tightened virus restrictions

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel came to a standstill for a minute on Monday evening to mark the beginning of the country’s memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of attacks.

The somber day of mourning comes as Israel is beginning to relax stringent measures meant to combat the country’s coronavirus outbreak. But with the memorial day and then Israeli Independence Day beginning Tuesday evening, Israel temporarily tightened restrictions meant to prevent gatherings and crowds that could set off new infections.

Typically, bereaved families visit cemeteries and attend memorial ceremonies. But this year Israel ordered military cemeteries to close and ceremonies are expected to be held without attendees or online.

The main ceremony at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, typically attended by bereaved families, dignitaries and political and military brass, was held for the first time with no crowd. Israel’s president and military chief of staff, among a small number of participants, wore face masks in line with heath regulations.

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In an annual ritual, a two-minute siren will blare on Tuesday morning, again bringing Israel to a halt, with motorists pulling over to the sides of highways and pedestrians stopping in their tracks. Television and radio will cut their regular programming to air somber music, documentaries about slain soldiers, and broadcasts of state memorial services.

Israel has fought half a dozen wars with neighboring Arab countries, battled two Palestinian uprisings and endured dozens of deadly militant attacks since its founding in 1948. The country honors 23,816 fallen soldiers and more than 3,100 people killed in attacks.

At sundown Tuesday, the country will transition from solemn remembrance to joyous celebration, kicking off its 72nd Independence Day. Israelis, who typically enjoy beachside barbecues and gatherings with families to watch the annual airshow, will be under lockdown for the duration of the holiday and unable to leave their homes except under certain circumstances.

Israel has counted more than 15,000 coronavirus infections and just over 200 deaths. But it has slowed its infection rate and begun reopening shops. Schools are expected to begin to reopen next week.

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