JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israel this week celebrates its 60th birthday with military displays, barbecues and a Bible quiz but also with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over its prime minister's political future.
Air shows, concerts, beach parties and fireworks will mark the six decades since the Jewish state was founded according to the Hebrew lunar calender.
For many, the three-day weekend will be an opportunity to escape to beaches or the countryside for picnics and barbecues, and opposition politicians have suggested Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should also get away from it all.
Several members of parliament have urged Olmert to quit or at least step aside pending the outcome of the latest investigation into corruption allegations against him, the fifth such probe since he took power.
Olmert has denied any wrongdoing and insisted he will continue his duties as premier.
While the big bash is on Thursday, celebrations will continue for weeks and some foreign dignitaries will only join in later, including US President George W. Bush who is scheduled to travel to Israel next week.
Israel's vaunted military, which defeated Arab armies to forge the Jewish state in 1948, will play a key role. Its displays will include a jump by 150 paratroopers from different countries over the seaside town of Ashkelon on Thursday.
In a reminder that Israel remains mired in conflict with the Palestinians, the army says it will offer guided tours of copies of tunnels used to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip.
It will also display a model of underground bunkers and missile launch sites used by Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia which Israel battled to a bloody 34-day stalemate in 2006.
The more religiously minded can take part in an international Bible quiz, while for those seeking intellectual stimulation, President Shimon Peres is to host a conference on challenges facing Israel and the world.
On Tuesday evening, Peres led the nation in remembrance of its fallen in successive Arab-Israeli wars, lighting the flame of remembrance at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site.
"The Jewish people returned here to struggle for its homeland and it is your sons who have put up the fight," the president said.
"For 60 years now, we have had our homeland and have built it on a sea of tears... We want to live in peace with our neighbours and want to shake hands with them but our enemies know too that we can also press the trigger."
The president spoke after the sirens sounded across Israel at 8 pm (1700 GMT) to start the annual minute's silence to remember its fallen.
But as Israel held its annual commemorations, Palestinians marked six decades of what they call the "Naqba" -- Arabic for catastrophe.
The Western Wall, where Peres gave his speech, lies in Arab east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 but which the Palestinians want to make the capital of their promised state.
Every year as Israel celebrates its anniversary, the Palestinians remember the 700,000 or so of their fellow citizens who fled or were forced from their homes as the Jewish state was created and who, with their descendants, now form a UN-registered refugee population of more than 4.5 million.
Sixty years on, Israel and the Palestinians remain locked in a seemingly intractable conflict.
UN agencies say the Gaza Strip is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster as a result of a crippling blockade Israel has imposed on the impoverished territory since the Islamist Hamas movement seized power there last June.
In the occupied West Bank, construction of new homes for Jewish settlers in defiance of both international law and an internationally drafted peace plan has cast a huge shadow over a new peace push launched in November.
The separation barrier Israel has been building the length of the territory and the 500 or so roadblocks that hamper movement around it remain a source of frustration for Palestinians and a key obstacle to economic development.
The Israeli army further tightened the restrictions for the anniversary celebrations, imposing a three-day security lockdown on the territory until midnight (2100 GMT) on Thursday.
Israel's military intelligence chief Major General Amos Yadlin has warned of a possible "major attack" by Hamas during the anniversary celebrations.
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