Palestinians flooded the central square in Ramallah Friday waiting to share Mahmoud Abbas moment of triumph at the United Nations. Palestinian flags were on display everywhere – some groups of young men marching in unison whistling and blaring plastic trumpets to small children holding parents by one hand and clutching the flag in the other. Also visible was scores of foreign journalists and tourists soaking up the jubilant atmosphere in the West Banks biggest Palestinian city.
Almost total silence descended as Abbas began to speak. People lined every rooftop, hung out of every window to watch their president on the massive screen erected for the occasion. They stood shoulder to shoulder, young and old, women and men, in anticipation of what has been hailed as a momentous event in their fractured history.
The hush prevailed throughout almost the entire time Abbas spoke, but the crowd signaled its approval at several points as his speech drew to a close, and his final words were drowned out by effusive applause, cheers and chants.
The festive atmosphere prevailed after the speech ended as the main street in downtown Ramallah was again filled with a large procession of young men, many carrying portraits of Abbas, and all chanting Abu Mazen - Abbas' nickname – over and over. Drivers honked their horns repeatedly and even a convoy of white police vans raced through the center of the city with sirens blaring and Palestinian flags fluttering to mark the occasion.
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Abbas' defiant stance, pushing for UN recognition over strong objections from the U.S.¬ and Israel, has struck a chord with Palestinians increasingly disillusioned after nearly two decades of failed efforts to bring them independence.
At the UN General Assembly, Abbas' announcement was met by a standing ovation, a stirring sight for Palestinians who felt their plight had largely been forgotten.
In the city of Nablus, thousands packed into the main square, decorated with large Palestinian flags and posters of Abbas. Fathers came with children on their shoulders.
Young men climbed onto surrounding rooftops. Elderly women were assisted by younger relatives.
The crowd cheered throughout the speech, roaring ecstatically when Abbas announced from the podium of the General Assembly that he had submitted the request for full UN membership.
"We are here celebrating because Abu Mazen is making us a state. We want to have our own state, like any other country. All countries must support us," said Reem al-Masri, a 30-year-old schoolteacher, who lost a brother and two cousins in fighting with Israel during the second Palestinian uprising against the occupation a decade ago.
"This is our land. We're going to be strong in it until it's liberated. When you have a state all your dreams come true," she said.