RAMALLAH, West Bank–Tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered in cities across the West Bank to celebrate and watch a speech by President Mahmoud Abbas on large television screens set up in central squares for the occasion.
They were the largest public gatherings since Yasser Arafat’s funeral in 2004. There were no rallies in Gaza, where the militant group Hamas is in control and opposed Mr. Abbas’s U.N. initiative to accept Palestine as a member state.
Palestinians cheer moments before President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the U.N. General Assembly in the West Bank city of Ramallah
In the West Bank, the mood was jubilant as crowds made up of whole families gathered hours before the speech to sing, dance, chant slogans and wave Palestinian flags.
Among the many posters and banners, a few criticized U.S. President Barack Obama, whose speech on Wednesday and opposition to the statehood bid deeply disappointed Palestinians.
In Ramallah, the seat of Mr. Abbas’s government, the crowd filled Arafat square and lined the rooftops surrounding it. It erupted in cheers and flag waving when Mr. Abbas asked the U.N. to accept his application for observer state status.
The gatherings were overwhelming peaceful, but the Palestinian security and police forces mobilized all 29,000 officers to prevent violence and clashes with the Israeli military.
Israel itself mobilized more than 20,000 riot police and security officials. Major checkpoints were manned with thousands of soldiers in riot gear, and there were between youths throwing rocks and Israeli soldiers at some checkpoints.