Palestinians allowed to raise flag at UN headquarters

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) - The UN General Assembly voted on Thursday to allow the Palestinians to raise their flag at its headquarters in a diplomatic victory in their campaign for statehood.

A resolution was adopted by member states with 119 in favour, eight voting against - including Israel and the United States - and 45 abstentions.

The text allows the flags of Palestine and the Holy See - both of which have non-member observer status - to be hoisted alongside those of the member states.

The world body now has 20 days to implement the move, which would be in time for a visit by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sept 30.

Palestinians had been lobbying intensively to round up the needed votes for the initiative - which both Israel and the United States were firmly opposed.

"Raising the Palestinian flag outside the UN headquarters is not an alternative to negotiations (between Palestinians and Israel), and will not bring the parties closer to peace," US ambassador Samantha Power said after the vote.

Israel ambassador Ron Prosor maintained that "no vote can turn an empty symbolic gesture into a state."

European nations were divided on the move, with France and Sweden voting in favour while others such as Germany, Austria, Finland, the Netherlands and Cyprus abstained.

French ambassador Francois Delattre stated that "this flag is a powerful symbol, a glimmer of hope," for the Palestinians amid broken-down peace talks.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been comatose since a failed US diplomatic effort in April last year, and a war in the Gaza Strip last summer left 2,200 Palestinians dead.