Fly-past, flags on rooftops mark Israel's independence day under lockdown

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TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Military jets flew in formation over Tel Aviv’s deserted parks and streets on Wednesday, cheered on from rooftops by flag-waving residents in face masks as Israel marked its independence day under lockdown.

In a normal year, locals would celebrate the day by flocking to beaches and other public spaces for barbecues, and to soak up the sun.

The government has begun to ease some curbs to contain its coronavirus epidemic, but it reimposed mandatory curfews for the back-to-back Memorial Day and Independence Day holidays on Tuesday and Wednesday to reduce the risk of contagion.

So while the four jets performed aerobatic manoeuvres before flying on to other cities in a display also honouring front-line hospital staff, families looked on from balconies.

Doctors and nurses, many wearing face masks, gathered on the rooftop of Tel Aviv’s Wolfson Medical Center and waved Israeli flags.

“We wish for you and all the citizens of Israel robust and vigorous health and a happy Independence Day,” one of the squadron pilots said in a message to health workers.

Celebrations for the 72nd anniversary of Israel’s 1948 independence kicked off late on Tuesday with fireworks in some cities. But many jurisdictions forwent their usual spectacles to save money in an economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

Israel has reported almost 16,000 coronavirus cases and more than 200 deaths.

Infection rates have ebbed in recent weeks, and authorities have begun easing restrictions by allowing some businesses to reopen, with an eye towards letting children return to school.

Reporting by Rami Ayyub and Roleen Tafakji; editing by John Stonestreet