UNITED NATIONS, Oct 1 : The Palestinian flag was raised at the United Nations in a symbolic gesture on Wednesday as leader Mahmud Abbas called on the world body to grant them full membership, warning the risk of religious conflict.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Abbas presided over the packed, slightly chaotic ceremony against a backdrop of stalemate in the peace process and escalating tensions at holy sites in Jerusalem.
"In this historical moment, I say to my people everywhere: raise the flag of Palestinians very high because it is the symbol of our identity," the 80-year-old Abbas told the crowd. "It is a proud day." Israel and the United States, which voted against the flag-raising, have called it a symbolic move that will not serve the cause of peace.
On Wednesday, the Diplomatic Quartet agreed at talks in New York to revitalize the quest for a political settlement, warning that facts on the ground were "dangerously imperilling" a possible two-state solution. "Now is the time to restore confidence by both Israelis and Palestinians for a peaceful settlement and, at last, the realization of two states for two peoples," Ban told the ceremony.
The crowd, which included French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, diplomats from around the world and journalists, cheered when the red, black, white and green Palestinian flag fluttered in the gentle breeze.
In Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank, hundreds of people gathered to watch the flag-raising and Abbas's speech, cheering loudly and waving flags as he spoke.
The General Assembly voted September 10 to allow the flags of Palestine and the Vatican -- both have observer status -- to be raised at the world body alongside those of member states.
The resolution was backed by 119 countries, with 45 abstentions and eight votes against, including Australia, Israel and the United States. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced his speech as "deceitful" and accused Abbas's words of encouraging "incitement and destruction in the Middle East. ?AFP