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Israel marks its 60th anniversary

Israeli air force jets perform a display during a demonstration to mark the 60th anniversary of Israel
The anniversary was marked with displays from air force jets

Celebrations have taken place across Israel to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state.

Fireworks, concerts and an aerial display were among the events laid on, while Israeli families enjoyed picnics and barbecues for the national holiday.

Israel declared itself an independent state on 14 May 1948, three years after the end of World War II, and the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust.

But Palestinians know the foundation day as al-Nakba, or "the Catastrophe".

They held solemn marches in the West Bank, meant to symbolise the hope of Palestinian refugees to return to villages in what is now Israel.

It is peace, not war, that we aspire to and crave
Ehud Olmert, Israeli PM

At one march, attended by thousands of Arab Israelis from northern Israel, hundreds of protesters clashed with police, and several people were injured, police said.

Israeli celebrations meanwhile drew large crowds to military air shows, while military bases opened their doors to the public to show off some of their arsenal.

Uncertain future

The BBC's Tim Franks in Jerusalem says Israel has changed dramatically since it was founded, with a population nearly 10 times larger, and a stronger economy and military than its founders could have dreamt of.

However he says it is also a place riven by uncertainty - over its unresolved conflicts with neighbouring Arab countries and the Palestinians, and over the question of whether its own religious, political and ethnic mosaic still fits together.

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Israelis were entertained by parachute jumps

The state of Israel was proclaimed about six months after the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition what was then Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.

In the war that followed, some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out of their homes.

The anniversary is calculated according to the Jewish lunar calendar.

Palestinians are due to mark the occasion, al-Nakba, on 15 May.

Hopes for peace

The 60 years of Israel's existence have been marked by conflict, both with its Arab neighbours, and with Palestinians living under occupation.

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On Wednesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke of his hopes for future peace, in a speech marking Remembrance Day, when Israelis honour soldiers killed since the state was founded.

"Our conflict has been long indeed," he said.

"However, it is peace, not war that we aspire to and crave."

Israel's existence as a nation, he said, depended on its "willingness and ability" to defend itself, but there was also a "willingness to compromise".

Mr Olmert's political future is being called into question, since he became the centre of a police inquiry. The Israeli courts have imposed a gagging order on reporting the details of the inquiry.

US President George W Bush is due to attend a conference marking the anniversary in Jerusalem next week.

The US president is pushing for a Middle East peace settlement before he leaves office in January, but there has been little visible progress in talks between Israelis and Palestinians.



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