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Palestine flag raised at UN for first time

Israel and the US dismissed the move as a symbolic gesture
The General Assembly voted 10 September to allow the flags of Palestine and the Vatican (AA)

The Palestinians raised their flag at the United Nations on Wednesday for the first time as President Mahmoud Abbas called on the world body to grant them full membership.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Abbas presided over the packed ceremony in the rose garden after the Palestinian leader launched an attack at the General Assembly on Israel's continued occupation.

"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."

The General Assembly voted on 10 September 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.

Israel and the US have dismissed the move as a symbolic gesture that would not serve the cause of peace. But Ban said symbols were "important" and could lead to action.

"Now is the time to restore confidence by both Israelis and Palestinians for a peaceful settlement and, at last, the realisation of two states for two peoples," he said.

The red, black, white and green Palestinian flag was then hoisted under dark clouds that threatened rain. The crowd broke out into cheers when it started to flutter in the gentle breeze.

Dozens of people gathered in the West Bank town of Ramallah to watch the flag-raising by TV link. When the small crowd saw Abbas on the screen, they stood cheering and then fell silent to hear him.

In an op-ed published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, Abbas said raising the flag “will be a most emotional and proud day”.

He added: “As the UN this year marks its 70th anniversary, its longest-standing, unresolved issue is the question of Palestine.”

Abbas used his speech on Wednesday at the General Assembly to appeal for "those countries that have not yet recognised the state of Palestine yet, to do so."

"Palestine, which is an observer state in the United Nations, deserves full recognition and full membership," he said.

A recent poll found that Palestinians are increasingly exasperated with his leadership and Israel's right-wing government. 

According to the poll, a majority favours a return to armed uprising in the absence of peace talks and two-thirds want Abbas to resign. 

Abbas said Palestinian patience "has come to an end" and described the current situation as "unsustainable".

Later on Wednesday, the UN chief will also chair talks with the Diplomatic Quartet seeking a political settlement to the conflict.

The peace process has been in the doldrums since the latest US diplomatic effort failed in April last year.

In a shift, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League have been invited to the meeting, along with the foreign ministers of Russia, the United States and EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the United Nations on Thursday and call on Palestinians to stop what he calls "incitement to violence".

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