Thousands Rally in Ramallah to Back Palestinian Statehood Bid

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to present formal request to UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday.

Thousands of Palestinians flocked to Yasser Arafat Square in central Ramallah on Wednesday for a rally in support of the Palestinian bid for full United Nations membership.

The square was dominated by a huge sign with the words "UN 194" on it, in reference to the Palestinian attempt to become the 194th member state of the international body. The sign was flanked by portraits of former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, and his successor Mahmoud Abbas, who will on Friday formally submit the Palestinian request to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.


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Many of the crowd waved large Palestinian flags or carried banners either in support of UN membership, or condemning a likely U.S. veto should the issue come before the Security Council for a vote.

A handful of youth burned an American flag, but were sharply told off by other spectators.

Abbas' Fatah party had called on all its members to attend the rally, and the Palestinian Authority had attempted to boost attendance by closing schools for the day and allowing civil servants to attend during office hours.

Q&A: Haaretz Editor in Chief Aluf Benn on the Palestinian statehood bid.

At the Qalandiya checkpoint north of Jerusalem, dozens of young Palestinians threw stones at IDF forces. The IDF dispersed the stone throwers with the "Scream" device, which releases sound waves.

In Hebron, there were reports of friction between demonstrators and the IDF after Palestinian police lost control of the situation.

In accordance with prior agreements reached between Israel and the PA, demonstrators are not being permitted to approach areas under Israeli control.

The U.S.and Israel oppose the Palestinian bid, arguing that Palestinian statehood should be the result of negotiations. Ordinary Palestinians have expressed concerns about the repercussions of the move; some say they worry about retaliation, such as a tightening of travel restrictions by Israel or a cut in U.S.aid.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also departed for New York on Tuesday, and is set to deliver a speech to the General Assembly on Friday.

The U.S. has pressed Israel not to sanction the Palestinians for their efforts to achieve statehood. On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman denied that he had threatened to break up Netanyahu's coalition if the prime minister did not punish the Palestinians for their statehood aspirations.