Mahmoud Abbas - AP
Mahmoud Abbas Photo by AP
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday urged Palestinians to step up protests against Israel, urging "popular resistance" inspired by the Arab Spring to back a diplomatic offensive at the United Nations.

Abbas, addressing a Palestine Liberation Organization meeting in Ramallah, reiterated his determination to seek full UN membership for Palestine.

"In this coming period, we want mass action, organized and coordinated in every place," Abbas said. "This is a chance to raise our voices in front of the world and say that we want our rights."

Long on record as being opposed to violence by Palestinians, Abbas has faced domestic criticism for appearing hesitant to support protests and marches, part of what Palestinians call "popular resistance".

"We support popular resistance," he said.

Though the United States is expected through the Security Council to block their quest for a full seat, the Palestinians expect to secure at least an upgrade in their status during September's General Assembly meeting in New York.

Abbas' comments to the PLO central committee in Ramallah marked the first time he had openly urged popular activism in support of the initiative, echoing a call made last week by Marwan Barghouti, a popular leader now imprisoned in Israel.

Palestinian officials are describing the diplomatic initiative as part of a new approach to to create an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel sees the move as a Palestinian effort to isolate it and has warned Abbas against unilateral action.

Israel is expected to reinforce its border defenses in anticipation of such protests.

Popular protests this year have toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia and have challenged others in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain.

Abbas listed Palestinian grievances including the expansion of Jewish settlements and the construction of the security fence as reasons for wider activism.

"Every day, we face things that drive us to carry out popular resistance on a wide scale and not in one place," he said.

"I insist on popular resistance, and I insist that it be unarmed popular resistance so that nobody misunderstands us. We are now inspired by the protests of the Arab Spring, all of which cry out 'peaceful', 'peaceful'," he said.

Hany al-Masri, a political analyst, said there were still question marks over whether Abbas was serious in his call. Abbas, 76, may be nervous about the scope for protests to spiral out of control, he said.

"Does he want this, or is it just for consumption? This is the question," he said. Abbas' Fatah movement still has a support base capable of mobilizing for such protests, he said.

The Palestinians' plan, as outlined by officials, is to submit an application for full UN membership to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, while also preparing a draft resolution for the General Assembly seeking an upgrade to "non-member state".

Palestine currently has the status of an observer.

While Palestinian officials expect U.S. opposition to torpedo their attempt to gain full member status, they anticipate winning enough support in the General Assembly to secure the status upgrade. Palestinian officials say that would bring benefits including full access to UN agencies.