Throngs of Israelis crowded national parks, beaches and IDF bases opened to the public across the country to celebrate Israel’s 68th Independence Day.
The day’s festivities were marked with the traditional barbecues, flybys by the Israeli Air Force, parties and other forms of celebrations.
Israelis were treated to IAF flyovers starting right before 11 a.m., as combat planes passed over most major cities and towns, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beersheba, Tiberias, Haifa and Netanya.
Traffic jams were reported on major highways and roads across the country and entry to some IDF bases was closed before midday due to the number of people already there.
Authorities put the number of those celebrating outdoors at the national parks at 150,000, with an untold number of thousands at beaches at IDF bases, and some 35,000 at the Sea of Galilee. Its beaches were filled to overflowing capacity since Wednesday night, as thousands spent the night there in anticipation of the celebrations.
Yet where there are barbecues, there is fire, and grilled meats combined with high heat and dry conditions to create ideal conditions for brush fires, several of which broke out in forests across the country.
Eight firefighting teams, including an aircraft, battled a blaze at the Ramot forest near the entrance to Jerusalem.
Another brush fire broke out near the settlement of Kochav Hashahar in the northern West Bank, where firefighters were trying to prevent the blaze from reaching homes in the settlement.
No injuries were reported in either fire. Authorities said they would determine whether the fire in Ramot was caused by cookouts once the blaze has been extinguished.
On Wednesday night, as Israel transitioned from a solemn memorial Day to Independence Day, famous (and less famous) performers entertained crowds through the night.
Thousands also took part in street celebrations in cities throughout the country.
Fireworks shows, including the largest one held on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem Wednesday evening, lit up the skies.
Thursday’s daytime celebrations officially began at 9:30 a.m. with a ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. VIPs and political leaders were in attendance, and the president awarded the army’s annual citations for distinguished service to deserving soldiers.
The president, IDF chief of staff, prime minister and defense minister listened to their favorite Independence Day songs performed by the IDF orchestra and guest singers.
While the day is a holiday for most Israelis, the security services upped their level of alert and closed off entry to Israel for West Bank Palestinians for the day out of fear that terror groups are likely to seek to puncture the festivities with violence.
Hundreds of extra police officers were deployed in city centers and on the nation’s highways in an effort to prevent injury amid the revelry.
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