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Middle East

Abbas heads home to hero's welcome after UN vote

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reacts to applause from the crowd as he arrives to address the United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters, in New York, November 29, 2012. REUTERS/Chip East

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is due home from New York to a hero's welcome on Sunday, after the United Nations voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member state.

The main official event will be a celebratory rally and a speech by Abbas at his Ramallah headquarters, starting at midday (1000 GMT).

He landed in Amman on Saturday and is scheduled to spend the night in Jordan, returning to the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Sunday morning.

On Thursday, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a resolution recognising Palestine within the 1967 borders as a non-member observer state.

Israel lashed out in response, with an official on Friday telling AFP of plans to build 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank including annexed east Jerusalem, without specifying exactly where they were to be located.

Asked to confirm media reports that the measure was a consequence of the UN vote, the official said: "it's true."

The reports said that part of the building would be in east Jerusalem but the official said only that "we make no distinction," between the city's east and west sides.

Arab east Jerusalem was captured by Israel with the rest of the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move not recognised by the international community.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its "eternal, indivisible" capital, and does not view construction in the eastern sector as settlement activity.

The latest plan brought international condemnation, led by Israel's US ally, one of a handful of states to vote against the UN motion.

"In light of today's announcement, let me reiterate that this administration -- like previous administrations -- has been very clear with Israel that these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday.

Britain, which abstained, added its voice on Saturday, urging Israel to reverse its decision and saying the plans would undermine peace efforts.

"The UK strongly advises the Israeli government to reverse this decision," Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.

Abbas on Friday chided Israel's latest settlement plans but also called for a return to peace talks.

"I've said a thousand times that we want to resume negotiations and we are ready to do it," he told reporters in New York.

"We are not setting any condition but there are at least 15 UN resolutions which consider settlement activity as illegal and an obstacle to peace which must be removed," he said. "Why do (the Israelis) not stop settlement?"

Peace talks have been on hold since September 2010, with the Palestinians insisting on a settlement freeze before returning to the negotiating table and the Israelis insisting on no preconditions.

 

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