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Palestinians rally in support of state

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Thousands of flag-waving Palestinians rallied yesterday in towns across the West Bank to show support for their president's bid to win UN recognition of a Palestinian state.

The gatherings were carefully orchestrated, with civil servants and schoolchildren given time off to participate. Despite the largely low-key mood, a new poll indicated an overwhelming majority supports President Mahmoud Abbas' quest for UN recognition of a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

Some said they were dismayed by the U.S. pledge to block the Palestinians, if necessary by a veto in the Security Council. In Ramallah, the crowd cheered when a masked youth on a stage burned a U.S. flag before being led away by Palestinian security forces.

"We want to live in dignity," said Atallah Wahbeh, 60, a shopkeeper in Ramallah. He said it was important that the UN recognize a Palestinian state, even if there are repercussions, such as a possible cut in American aid.

"We don't need the Americans to buy us with money," he said.

Near Karnei Shomron, a Jewish settlement in the northern West Bank, an assailant fired on an Israeli car, causing damage but no injuries, the Israeli military said.

Nearby, Palestinians threw rocks at an Israeli car, injuring a baby girl, the military said.

The rallies were held far from possible friction points with Israeli troops, though in two locations small groups of young men broke away and threw rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops.

Israeli soldiers responded by firing tear gas and sending undercover forces into the crowd. Live TV broadcasts showed Israeli soldiers in civilian clothes arresting Palestinians who were throwing rocks. Palestinian medics said five protesters were injured, including one who was hit in the eye.

Abbas has called for peaceful marches in support of statehood, and Israeli security officials have scaled back forecasts of widespread violence.

Abbas is to address the General Assembly later this week and request full UN membership.

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