West Bank Palestinians await their UN moment

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories — Palestinians across the West Bank on Friday prepared to celebrate the formal submission of their bid to become a UN member state, despite opposition from Washington and Israel.

By (AFP)

Published: Fri 23 Sep 2011, 6:22 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:42 AM

In city centres, giant television screens were set up so residents could watch Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas deliver a historic address to the 193 member states of the UN General Assembly.

Palestinians were to begin gathering in the early evening shortly before Abbas is scheduled to submit the bid to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at 1535 GMT in New York.

Abbas’s address is expected at 1630 GMT, after which the Palestinian religious affairs ministry has directed mosques to issue calls “thanking Allah and asking him to help president Abbas to fulfil our people’s dreams.”

In Ramallah, the political capital of the West Bank, many cars were flying the Palestinian flag, and posters of Abbas and his late predecessor Yasser Arafat festooned in the streets.

Near the Muqataa, Abbas’s presidential headquarters, flags of the more than 125 nations that have recognised a Palestinian state flew in a circle around a Palestinian flag.

The streets were largely empty, though, with people hurrying home after Friday prayers to escape the winds and rain of a fast-moving storm.

In the southern city of Hebron, the municipality building was draped with a three-metre (10-foot) poster of Abbas and “Palestine 194,” and similar decorations were hung in the northern cities of Nablus and Jenin.

At the Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, the Israeli army fired tear gas into the crowds, with a military spokeswoman saying “around 100 rioters” were throwing stones at the troops.

In Nabi Saleh village, protesters chanted support for the UN bid, but activists also burnt a picture of US President Barack Obama who has vowed to block the membership bid at the Security Council.

An Israeli activist at the scene said soldiers had fired tear gas at demonstrators, wounding a photographer. There was no immediate confirmation from the army.

State television carried wall-to-wall coverage of the diplomatic drama playing out in New York, interviewing local officials and politicians and running a series of slick adverts backing the UN membership push.

One featured a jigsaw puzzle of the globe as depicted in the UN logo — with a missing piece. From the side of the screen, a piece in the colours of the Palestinian flag flies across and slots into place, completing the puzzle.

The three main Palestinian newspapers also dedicated their front pages to the bid, and the inside pages were dotted with paid adverts from individuals and businesses expressing their support for Abbas and the UN move.

“The president delivers his speech to the General Assembly and presents a request for recognition of the state of Palestine,” read the headline in Al-Quds newspaper, emblazoned over pictures of pro-bid demonstrations.

Another cartoon in the paper used the famous image of US soldiers raising their flag during the battle of Iwo Jima, replacing the US flag with the Palestinian one and the soldiers with Palestinians, some in traditional garb.

Al-Ayyam’s headline read: “The president presents a request for full membership for Palestine in front of the world,” while on the back, a cartoon showed Abbas at the UN podium shouting into a loudspeaker: “Freedom for Palestine.”

In the Gaza Strip, however, life was continuing as normal with no sign of any activity to mark the UN bid, which has not been backed by the territory’s Hamas rulers.

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