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Palestinians to Make Fresh UN Anti-Settlement Bid

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories  – The Palestinians aim to launch a new bid for UN condemnation of Israeli settlement building after Washington vetoed a Security Council motion, a top official said on Saturday.

A Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. Photograph: David Levene Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestine Liberation Organisation's secretary general, said Palestinian leaders had decided to make another attempt at the world body's General Assembly, which convenes in New York in September.

"Our decision now is to go to the General Assembly of the United Nations to pass a UN resolution against the settlements and condemn them and to emphasise its lack of legitimacy," he told AFP.

"And then we will put forward a draft to condemn the settlements to the UN Security Council."

A widely supported Palestinian drive to win the Council's condemnation of Israeli settlements was foiled by a US veto on Friday after Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas ignored sweeteners and reported strong-arm tactics from the White House to have the motion withdrawn.

But Abbas on Saturday told a group of university students at his Ramallah headquarters that the UN vote -- despite the US veto -- was a "victory" for Palestinian diplomacy.

"The Palestinian leadership faced intense pressure for two consecutive days," he said, adding that Palestinians are determined to "preserve our interests and legitimate rights."

Meanwhile Israeli President Shimon Peres phoned Abbas on Saturday, urging him to resume peace talks, but the Palestinian leaders insisted "there will be no negotiations without a settlement freeze," a Palestinian statement said.

On Sunday Fatah -- Abbas's mainstream movement -- is due to hold a demonstration in Ramallah to slam the US veto.

Egypt said the veto, while the Council's 14 others members all voted in favour, damaged Washington's credibility as a peace broker.

"The veto, which contradicts the American public stance rejecting settlement policy, will lead to more damage of the United States's credibility on the Arab side as a mediator in peace efforts," the foreign ministry in Cairo said.

The Islamist movement Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip called the US use of its veto "outrageous," and urged an end to all Palestinian-Israeli contacts.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the move should serve as a wake-up call for Abbas, the Islamist movement's fierce rival, and his West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA).

"This is an arbitrary and outrageous decision against the Palestinian people," he told AFP. "It should push the PA to adopt a strategy of unity... and take a national decision to end all forms of negotiations with" Israel.

Barhoum said Washington had again shown itself to be "completely biased" towards Israel and confirmed the failure of the US-brokered peace process.

Saeb Erakat, a senior member of Fatah who last week quit as chief Palestinian negotiator, said the latest setback undermined the Palestinian government.

"Israel has stripped the Palestinian Authority of its meaning, and (its usefulness) as a tool for the independence of the Palestinian people should be reconsidered," he told AFP.

Before Friday's vote, Washington pressured the Palestinians to drop their backing for the resolution, but to no avail, with Abbas rejecting a personal appeal from US President Barack Obama.

Abbas came under harsh criticism in September 2009 when he bowed to US pressure to accept a UN Human Rights Council ruling that both Israel and Hamas had failed to properly probe the findings of the Goldstone Commission.

The UN-sponsored commission found that both parties had committed war crimes during Israel's December 2008-January 2009 assault on Gaza.

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down last September after the expiry of a temporary freeze on Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank.

US attempts to coax Israel into renewing the freeze ran aground in December, with the Palestinians refusing to return to the negotiating table while Jewish settlers build on land they want for a future state.

Jewish settlement activity on Palestinian land seized during the 1967 Six-Day War is considered illegal by the international community, including the United States.

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