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Israel

Israel falls silent on Holocaust Memorial Day

Israel is commemorating its Holocaust Memorial Day to remember the millions of Jews who perished under the Nazi regime. Ceremonies are taking place throughout the day.

Sirens brought life to a standstill for two minutes on Monday morning across Israel, as people bowed their heads in a moment of silence to remember the millions of Jews who died in concentration camps.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres began the day by laying a wreath at a commemoration ceremony at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem. US Secretary of State John Kerry was also in attendance. He was later due to meet with Netanyahu.

The annual Holocaust Memorial Day falls one week before Israel's national Independence Day instead of January 27, the day recognized by other countries as the International Day of Commemoration.

Much of Europe's Jewish community perished during World War II, as dictator Adolf Hitler - an Austrian who came to power in Germany - overtook the continent and ordered the systematic extermination of Jews. Over six million perished in concentration camps from forced labor, starvation, disease or extermination.

The Nazi regime sent hundreds of thousands of other groups to their deaths as well. These were people whom the state deemed degenerate or a political threat, including the disabled, the mentally ill, homosexuals, Sinti and Roma, political enemies and members of religious organizations.

Israel's parliamentarians read out the names of victims of the Holocaust throughout the day.

Israel's Holocaust Memorial Day officially began at sunset on Sunday evening.

Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke of the enduring lesson for Israel to be drawn from the crimes against humanity committed by the Nazi regime.

"What has changed since the Shoah [Holocaust] is our determination and our capacity to defend ourselves with our own means," Netanyahu said.

"The murderous hatred against the Jews, that hatred hasn't disappeared from the world. It has just been replaced by murderous hatred for the Jewish state," he said, referring to Iran's persistent threats to annihilate Israel.

Ahead of World War II, "many didn't recognize the danger on time," he said. "We won't reach a situation again where it will be too late."

The Israeli prime minister has become increasingly vocal about the existential threat posed by Iran, but has failed to make diplomatic headway with the West amid international criticism of Israel's treatment of the Palestinian population.

kms/mz (AP, AFP, dpa)