Middle East

Palestinians rally for vote on UN status upgrade

People hold Palestinian flags and pictures of Yasser Arafat with President Mahmoud Abbas during a rally supporting the Palestinian UN bid for observer state status, in the West bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Thousands of Palestinians gathered across the West Bank and Gaza on Thursday to demonstrate their support for a fresh attempt by president Mahmud Abbas to secure upgraded UN status in New York.

Abbas is to address the General Assembly later on Thursday ahead of a vote that is expected to grant the Palestinians the status of a non-member observer state.

The bid comes a year after the Palestinian leader first approached the United Nations to seek full state membership but the request stalled at the Security Council due to opposition from the veto-wielding United States.

This time around, the sense of excitement was somewhat muted, with many Palestinians acknowledging that gaining enhanced UN status was unlikely to change the situation on the ground.

But there was also relief in the knowledge that no one state could block the vote at the General Assembly, and that by the evening, the Palestinians would have some level of UN recognition for their state.

In Ramallah's Yasser Arafat Square, which was decked with bunting of Palestinian flags, around a thousand people gathered, many sporting the traditional black-and-white checkered keffiyeh scarf once worn by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"This time it's different because now we are sure that most of the states of the world support us and the United States can't raise the veto," 30-year-old Bothaina Hamdan told AFP.

"It won't be easy to change anything on the ground, the occupation won't end tomorrow, we know that," she added. "But here today we are telling the world that we want peace, and we support peaceful methods to achieve our state."

As she spoke, scout troupes marched around the square, where a stage was set up with a backdrop featuring the faces of both Abbas and Arafat.

Lianna Atrash, 36, was watching the proceedings from behind oversized sunglasses, clapping along with the patriotic music being played from the stage.

"This is a very important day. This opens the door for us towards statehood, it paves the way," she said, as her son tugged her arm, saying "I want a flag, Mum, I want a flag!"

"We'll still be under occupation, but we'll be a state under occupation. Our position will be stronger, and people will be able to hear the voice of Palestine," she added.

In Gaza City, around a thousand people marched towards the UN headquarters in support of the bid, waving flags of various Palestinian factions, including Abbas's Fatah party.

Gaza's ruling Hamas movement, a bitter rival of Fatah, has in recent days expressed tepid support for the UN bid, after its leadership-in-exile announced its backing.

But while the government allowed the rally to go ahead, there were no green Hamas flags to be seen among those participating, an AFP reporter said.

Back in Ramallah, members of all Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, took to the stage to express their support for the bid.

But there were also voices of scepticism among the crowd.

"These people are here to dance and drum and sing, but what for?" said 34-year-old Mitri Dbeet as he watched the gathering from outside his shop.

"It's not that I oppose the bid, but I just know it won't do anything, it won't help Gaza, it's totally symbolic. But, I suppose, why not?"





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