Israelis celebrate independence with air show (Lead)

May 8th, 2008 - 8:56 pm ICT by admin  

Tel Aviv, May 8 (DPA) An Israeli army paratrooper injured 10 people Thursday afternoon when he missed his designated landing spot in the sea off Tel Aviv and instead landed on a crowd of spectators watching an air display to mark 60 years of Israeli independence. The paratrooper was part of a team who were supposed to form the number “60″ in the sky. Israeli media reports said a gust of wind had apparently caught his parachute and set it off course.

The air display off the Tel Aviv coast was to have been the highlight of the country’s 60th anniversary celebrations, and included a flypast by various aircraft of the Israel Air Force, a simulated air-sea rescue of a downed pilot, and aerobatics by the air force’s aerobatics team.

The aircraft also flew over about 20 other Israeli cities from Nahiriya, just south of the Lebanon border, to Sderot, the town on the edge of the Gaza strip, which is targeted almost daily by rockets fired from the salient.

Israeli naval vessels also led a flotilla of hundreds of private yachts in a stately procession down the coast, applauded by thousands of spectators who gathered to watch them and the air show.

President Shimon Peres hosted a morning reception for past and present Israel Defence Force (IDF) generals, an event also attended by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

The traditional Bible quiz, whereby youth are asked questions, some of them arcane, about the Old Testament, took place in Jerusalem, with 16 youth, four of them from Israel, taking part.

In the main, however, Israelis flocked to parks and picnic sites. Nature reserves, picnic sites and museums were open to the public without payment for the occasion, and the IDF opened selected bases to the public.

Thousands of police, including special units, were on duty to secure the events, as police raised their alert to the second-highest level, amid warnings that Arab militants might try to mar the festivities with a major attack.

Roadblocks were set up at city entrances and beefed up forces patrolled the border with the West Bank and Gaza. Other officers were on duty in the cities and on the beaches.

Festivities began Wednesday night, at the end of a 24-hour day of mourning for the more than 20,000 soldiers and civilians killed in fighting that preceded and followed Israel’s creation.

Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, but Independence Day is celebrated each year according to the Hebrew calender.

Palestinians, for their part, are to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the start of the 1948-49 war that followed Israel’s creation, known to them as the Nakba (Catastrophe), Thursday next week with marches, rallies and an address by President Mahmoud Abbas.

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