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Palestinian leader lays first stone of Brazil embassy

Abbas seeks US support in UN proposal

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas laid the first stone Friday of what will become a Palestinian embassy in Brazil, the most important Latin American country to recognize a sovereign Palestinian state.

The symbolic act underlined a general movement in South America to recognize Palestine as a country, despite sharp criticism from Israel and U.S. lawmakers.

Argentine, Bolivia and Ecuador have followed Brazil's decision, made early December, to formally acknowledge a Palestinian state based on the borders which existed before the 1967 Six-Day War when Israel seized the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

Uruguay has said it will do likewise early in 2011.

Seeking intl recognition

Other Latin American countries, including Cuba, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Venezuela, recognized Palestinian statehood several years ago.

Abbas carried out the ceremony in Brazil's capital under a light rain, posing the stone in ground donated by the Brazilian government in the same district as other diplomatic missions, according to AFP.

Doves were released during the act to represent peace, though one of the birds provoked laughter when it perched on Abbas's head.

Following the ceremony, Abbas was to meet outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to thank him for the recognition of Palestinian statehood.

Brazil has a Palestinian immigrant community of at least 50,000, officials say.

On Saturday, the Palestinian leader was to attend the inauguration of Lula's elected successor, Dilma Rousseff.

The move by most of South America to recognize a Palestinian state has angered both Israel and the United States, which have said a Palestinian state can only be achieved through a negotiated peace deal.

The Palestinians have reached out asking for bilateral recognition of their statehood after peace talks with Israel reached an impasse.

Abbas has refused to return to talks while Israel builds settlements on land the Palestinians want for a future state, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to put a new freeze in place.

US reaction

The United States has proposed the two sides resume indirect talks.

The Palestinians have refused and said they will turn instead to alternative options, including bilateral recognition of statehood and going to the United Nations to seek recognition.

The United States reacted Friday to the Palestinian and Arab draft resolution set to go to the United Nations urging Israel to halt Jewish settlements, saying only that it preferred negotiations.

"On the Middle East, our view remains unchanged. The only viable path is through a negotiated agreement that resolves the core issues and ends the conflict," said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley.

Drafting new peace pkan

Abbas, meanwhile, called on Middle East power brokers to draft a new peace plan for the region that could help revive failed U.S.-backed negotiations with Israel.

In a televised speech on Friday, Abbas said Palestinians "demand" that the Quartet comprising Washington, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations "draft a peace plan" based on U.N. Security Council resolutions that call for establishing a Palestinian state on land Israel captured in a 1967 war.

Abbas, speaking on the anniversary of the foundation of Palestinians' mainstream Fatah movement, reiterated a demand for Israel to halt settlement building, the issue over which negotiations launched anew in September foundered just several weeks later.

Winning US support

The Palestinian president had said a new attempt by the Palestinians to get the United Nations to condemn Israeli settlements was specifically designed to win U.S. support, according to AP.

As part of a new emphasis on winning international support for their cause, the Palestinians have drafted a proposal and are lobbying for a Security Council resolution that would declare West Bank settlements illegal and an "obstacle to peace."

The U.S. has said it doesn't support the move, but it remains unclear if it will veto the measure or abstain should the draft come to a vote. Israel says it is an attempt by the Palestinians to avoid negotiations.

Speaking on Thursday to Palestinian expatriates and Arab ambassadors in Brazilia, Brazil, Abbas said the Palestinian draft used language similar to that used by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has criticized settlements.

"We drafted it using the same words that Secretary Clinton is using and so we don't see why the U.S. would veto it," Abbas said.