JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu marked the country's annual Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror on Monday by calling on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to cease doling out payment to the killers of Israelis, beseeching him to "fund peace and not murder."
At a ceremony at Israel's Har Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said Palestinian killers "nursed incitement against our people with their mother's milk" and were regarded as heroes in their society for carrying out heinous attacks against Israelis.
Netanyahu accused the Palestinian Authority of Abbas, who is scheduled to meet President Donald Trump this week, of compensating the attackers to the tune of $300 million a year.
"How can you talk about peace with Israel while you simultaneously fund murderers that are shedding the blood of innocent Israelis everywhere?" Netanyahu said. "Cancel payments to the murderers. Cancel the law that requires payments to these murderers. Fund peace and not murder."
The Palestinian "martyrs' fund" makes monthly payments to about 35,000 families of Palestinians killed and wounded in the long-running conflict with Israel, and says the money amounts to welfare payments to help victims of Israel's occupation. Israel has long said the payments glorify terrorism and provide an incentive to kill.
Ahmad Majdalani, an aide to Abbas, said Israel and the Palestinians were at war and each side had commitments toward its own people.
"The salaries of the prisoners and martyrs are agreed upon with the Israelis long time ago, but Netanyahu is using this card now in an attempt to foil President Abbas' relationship with President Trump," he said.
Netanyahu's comments came as Israel observed Memorial Day, one of its most sombre days on the year.
The country came to a standstill at 11 a.m. for a two-minute air siren to remember its war dead and victims of deadly attacks. Motorists pulled over on the sides of highways and roads and pedestrians stopped in their tracks silently with heads bowed as the sirens wailed. People visited cemeteries and attended remembrance ceremonies across the country. Radio and television networks broadcast programs about battle and loss and played solemn Hebrew music.
Israel has fought half a dozen wars with Arab countries since its establishment in 1948, battled two Palestinian uprisings and endured dozens of deadly militant attacks. Military service is mandatory and after decades of conflict most Israelis have personally experienced the grief of war or know someone who has.
The memorial comes amid a wave of Palestinian attacks that killed 42 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British student, mainly in stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks, since September 2015. During that same time, Israeli forces have killed some 244 Palestinians. Israel has identified most of them as attackers.
The sad atmosphere ends sharply at sundown, when in jarring contrast, Israelis take to the streets for Independence Day celebrations with dancing, fireworks, parties and BBQs.
Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh contributed to this report from Ramallah, West Bank.
Aron Heller, The Associated Press