UN General Assembly – 23.9.11 - AP
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures toward the audience after he addressed the 66th UN General Assembly, Sept. 23, 2011. Photo by AP
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President Mahmoud Abbas appealed to the Council of Europe on Thursday to support the Palestinians’ bid for statehood, saying his people deserve freedom and an end to the Israeli occupation, Ma’an News Agency reported.

"Today we are at the heart of the Arab spring: we say that the hour of the Palestinian spring has struck," Abbas reportedly told the European parliamentarians, adding, "you supported the Arab spring which was seeking democracy and freedom, now the Palestinian spring has arrived, asking for freedom and an end to the (Israeli) occupation. We deserve your support."

Abbas said that he only approached the United Nations after negotiations had failed, adding that Palestinians would not be driven to extremism, Ma’an reported.

"Though there were many attempts at provocation by the Israeli side, we will not let them drive us to extremism, we will not go that way."

The Palestinian president clarified that although the Palestinians are not opposed to negotiations, the current environment is not conducive to talks and he called on Israel to freeze settlement building in the West Bank, Ma’an reported.

"We don’t intend to isolate Israel or take its legitimacy but we want to gain our legitimacy and decide our future and our goals without occupation and settlements," Abbas reportedly said.

He also called for the release of 6,000 Palestinians currently held in Israeli jails, adding that 21 Palestinian lawmakers are imprisoned in Israel as well, Ma’an said.

Abbas compared the Palestinian prisoners to abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, saying that the Palestinians want the detainees freed in the same way that Aviva and Noam Shalit want their son released. Hamas has been holding Shalit in Gaza since 2006, despite many attempted deals to secure his freedom.