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Thousands rally for statehood in West Bank

Sept. 21, 2011 10:51 A.M. (Updated: Sept. 23, 2011 10:20 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) – Thousands rallied Wednesday across the occupied West Bank, as Palestinians called on the United States to back down from its threats to veto Palestine's bid for membership in the UN.

Palestinians in Ramallah held signs and banners in anticipation of a UN initiative to seek recognition of statehood from the UN Security Council, in defiance of pressure from Israel and the United States.

President Mahmoud Abbas says he is determined to press ahead with plans to submit a formal application to UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday, while diplomatic sources say he is weighing an offer to delay the bid.

Celebrations began early in Ramallah as scouts, students, civil servants and representatives of national factions visited the tomb of late president Yasser Arafat before they began marching to a central square.

The renowned PLO band Al-Asheqeen performed for an audience of thousands.

In Bethlehem, police officials offered an initial estimate of 3,000 participants in a large rally held outside the Nativity Church, the traditional site of the birth of Jesus. Local clergy were among the speakers.

The largest rally was in Hebron, a Ma'an correspondent reported.

The crowd covered an area of 2.5 kilometers between the square in the city center and the Al-Haras quarter. The main celebrations, he added, were held in front of the municipality offices.

In Nablus, thousands gathered in the city center while 30 activists from the anti-Zionist Jewish group Neturei Karta joined the celebrations showing support for the Palestinian UN bid.

Fatah leader Mahmoud Al-Alul, the former government of Nablus, praised Abbas' stance on going to the Security Council despite American warnings of the consequences.

“It has become evident that the only person who dares to say no to the US nowadays is the Palestinian president, Abu Mazen, and other Palestinian leaders,” he said.

“Yes, we want to change the rules of the game because we spent a long time in negotiations, and we made every possible effort to achieve just and honorable peace. This Israeli government is not one that seeks peace, but rather seeks settlement expansion and seeks to satisfy settlers.

"To them we say that our top priority is the interests of our people.”

In New York, US President Barack Obama was to meet Abbas later in the day, just hours after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a US official said Tuesday.

Obama has called for negotiations to resume using the 1967 borders -- before the Six-Day war -- as a starting point for the contours of an eventual Palestinian state.

European diplomats and the Middle East Quartet -- comprising the EU, the US, the UN and Russia -- were all seeking to head off a confrontation in the Security Council on Friday, when Abbas will address the UN.

Sources close to the negotiations, that asked to remain anonymous, said a focus was on trying to buy time to allow a broader path toward resuming the direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which have stalled since September 2010.

One possibility was that UN chief Ban Ki-moon does not hand over Abbas's letter straight away to the Security Council, one European source said, adding there were other "diplomatic airbags" that could be used to defuse tensions.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who met Tuesday with Abbas, was also expected to unveil a breakthrough during his speech to the opening of the UN assembly in Wednesday, French sources said.

Abbas held a whirlwind of talks Tuesday in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly which opens Wednesday.
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