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Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, one that will never be divided "either directly nor indirectly," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared yesterday.

Addressing a group of diplomatic staffers at an Independence Day event at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, the foreign minister quoted a speech made by former prime minister Menachem Begin, noting that Begin's remarks reflected the connection that Jews around the world feel toward Jerusalem, a connection that still exists today.

"Today, I stand before you in Jerusalem, and confirm Begin's words: The city will remain our capital and will never be divided," Lieberman said in English.

The foreign minister said the government of which he is a member seeks peace as long as there is a genuine partner.

"The State of Israel has proven time and again that it is prepared to pay a high price for peace with its neighbors and has already evacuated territory three times its size," he said. "We must now create a new reality in the region based on security for Israelis, economic prosperity for Palestinians, and stability for both. Only then will it be possible to negotiate a final agreement between the parties."

Lieberman also addressed possible future demands on behalf of the U.S. administration that Israel and the Palestinians make certain moves toward a peace settlement. Earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama told his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy that he was determined to press Israel and the Palestinians to renew negotiations and make confidence-building measures.

Lieberman said yesterday that "any attempt to force a solution on us without building a foundation of trust between the two sides will only deepen the conflict. Peace can't be forced - it must be built."

Also yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi attended a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem to honor 120 outstanding soldiers.

"The soldiers standing here represent, I am sure, the promise of a future history that will make their people proud," Peres said.

Independence Day celebrations kicked off as Memorial Day ended Monday night with the official torch-lighting ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl national cemetery.

The theme of the ceremony was "If you will it, it is no dream," a phrase from Theodor Herzl's seminal Zionist novel "Altneuland."

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin lit the first torch, emphasizing Israel's commitment to the unity of Jerusalem.

"We will not apologize for building up Jerusalem our capital," he said.

Over a million Israelis mark holiday

More than a million Israelis thronged parks and attractions nationwide yesterday to celebrate Independence Day.

The overwhelming number of visitors caused traffic jams on various roads and highways across the country, as visitors flocked to sites including Park Hayarden on the banks of the Jordan River, the Ben Shemen forest near Modi'in and the Mount Carmel forest in the north.

Tel Aviv beachgoers were treated to an Israel Air Force air show over the city's coast line.

The Jewish National Fund said special preparations were made in anticipation of the crowds, including setting up campgrounds for visitors throughout the country, distributing garbage bags for collecting litter and placing crews on high alert for dealing with forest fires and other emergencies.