Palestinians take to W. Bank streets in support of UN bid

Rallies taking place in Ramallah, other Palestinian cities; learning institutions, gov't offices closed to encourage participation.

Palestinian boy looks over rally in Ramallah 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)
Palestinian boy looks over rally in Ramallah 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)
Demonstrations supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state were taking place in cities across the West Bank Wednesday, ahead of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's expected request for United Nations recognition of statehood later this week.
In Ramallah, thousands of Palestinians had gathered by late morning in the city's central Al Manara Square and Clock Squares.
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"We are asking for the most simple of rights, a state like other nations," said Sabrina Hussein, 50, carrying the green, red, black and white Palestinian national flag at the main demonstration in Ramallah.
A large mock-up of a blue chair, symbolizing a seat at the UN, and giant Palestinian flags hanging from buildings provided a backdrop for the Ramallah rally.
In an effort to boost attendance at the rallies, learning institutions and government offices were closed throughout the West Bank and bus and other private transportation carriers announced free rides for those wishing to attend the rallies.
At the Ramallah rally, Amina Abdel Jabbar al-Kiswany, a head teacher, said the UN bid was a step on the road to statehood, not a solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which direct negotiations have failed to resolve.
"It's a cry of desperation," Kiswany said.
In the thick of the crowd, a masked men tried to set a US flag on fire but was dissuaded by another participant who tried to grab it away from him. In the end, the Stars and Stripes was tossed into the crowd, where a man picked it up and walked away with it.
Additional rallies were expected to take place in the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem, Nablus, Kalkilya, Jenin and Hebron.
Events were scheduled to continue throughout the week, culminating with live broadcasts in the streets of PA President Abbas's speech to the United Nations on Friday, in which he is expected to demand statehood and UN membership for the Palestinians.
The main venues were far removed from IDF checkpoints on the perimeter of the cities and there were no reports of any violence. Palestinian leaders have pledged that demonstrations for statehood would be peaceful.
Israeli officials said they did not expected the rallies to turn into clashes with IDF forces as the demonstrations were being held within Palestinian cities that are under full Palestinian security control.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch earlier this week said he is optimistic that the Palestinian leadership understands the need to prevent demonstrations from getting out of control.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post Tuesday, Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i said that PA security forces are prepared to contain demonstrations and prevent them from turning violent.
Nonetheless, he said, "the defense establishment is well prepared for all possible scenarios."
Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.
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