Israel has come to a standstill in two minutes of silence to remember the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Earlier, Prime Minister Netanyahu compared Israel's arch-foe, Iran, to the Nazis.
Traffic in Israeli towns and cities came to a halt and pedestrians stood at attention for two minutes beginning at 10 a.m. local time (0700 UTC) to mark the beginning of a public wreath-laying service at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center in Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kicked off this year's ceremonies, which mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps, with a speech on Wednesday evening at Yad Vashem.
Criticism of P5+1 deal with Iran
In his speech, Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated his criticism of a framework agreement reached between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) with Iran, aimed at limiting Tehran's nuclear program so that it cannot use it for military purposes.
Netanyahu accused the group, made up of the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany of being soft on Tehran.
"Instead of demanding Iran significantly dismantle its nuclear capabilities and conditioning lifting sanctions on it ending its aggressions, the world powers are retreating, leaving Iran with nuclear capabilities and even allowing it to expand them later on regardless to its actions in the Middle East and around the world," he said.
Netanyahu also used the speech to compare the government of Iran to Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime, which carried out the Holocaust, killing 6 million Jews.
"As the Nazis strived to trample civilization and replace it with a 'master race' while destroying the Jewish people, so is Iran striving to take over the region and expand further with a declared goal of destroying the Jewish state," he said.
The commemoration ceremonies were to continue at schools, colleges and universities across the country all through Thursday, Israel's annual Holocaust Memorial Day.
Later in the day, thousands of Jewish youths were to take part in an annual "March of the Living," a three-kilometer (1.86 miles) trek from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the two sections of the biggest death camp complex, located in Poland, which during World War II was occupied by the Nazis.
pfd/sms (dpa, AFP)