RAMALLAH (AFP) - Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas returned to the West Bank on Sunday after winning upgraded UN status for the Palestinians, telling cheering crowds: "Yes, now we have a state."
"Palestine has accomplished a historic achievement at the UN," Abbas added, three days after the United Nations General Assembly granted the Palestinians non-member state observer status in a 138-9 vote.
"The world said in a loud voice... yes to the state of Palestine, yes to Palestine's freedom, yes to Palestine's independence, no to aggression, no to settlements, no to occupation," Abbas told the ecstatic crowd.
Abbas pledged that after the victory at the United Nations, his "first and most important" task would be working to achieve Palestinian unity and reviving efforts to reconcile rival factions Fatah and Hamas.
"We will study over the course of the coming days the steps necessary to achieve reconciliation," he said, as the crowd chanted: "The people want the end of the division."
In Gaza, Hamas official Salah Bardawil said the group was calling "for urgent meetings to achieve reconciliation."
"We are interested in achieving Palestinian reconciliation and Hamas has presented several positive initiatives to protect the unity of the Palestinians," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.
The return was a moment of triumph for Abbas, who last year tried and failed to win the Palestinians full state membership at the United Nations.
The bid stalled in the Security Council, where the veto-wielding United States has vehemently opposed it. The United States, Israel and a handful of other countries also opposed the Palestinian bid to upgrade their status to that of a non-member observer state, but with no vetoes available in the General Assembly, the measure easily passed.
The move gives the Palestinians access to a range of international institutions, including potentially the International Criminal Court, and raises their international profile after years of stalled peace talks with Israel.
Abbas was received with a full honour guard, descending from his car to walk along a red carpet at the Ramallah presidential headquarters known as the Muqataa, where he shook hands with waiting dignitaries.
He laid a wreath and said a brief prayer at the grave of the iconic late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who is buried within the presidential complex, later dedicating the UN victory to the former president's memory.
Abbas called the approval a milestone in Palestinian history, saying it was the achievement of Palestinians everywhere. "Our people everywhere, raise your heads up high because you are Palestinians," he said. "You are stronger than the occupation... because you are Palestinians.
"You are stronger than the settlements because you are Palestinians," he added. "You are making history and Palestine will be drawn on the map very soon."
Abbas's return drew supporters from across the West Bank, including Bajis Bani Fadl from the northern town of Nablus.
"I came to celebrate this day because the Palestinian leadership accomplished a great achievement, and this is a joy we haven't experienced in our lives," he told AFP.
"President Abbas... took us from a historical stage to a new stage, although it won't be easy to become a state on the ground," Mohammed Bani Audeh, 54, added.
"I know that the pressures will increase on us now, but these pressures don't mean anything, particularly if we achieve our unity."
While the Palestinians have expressed satisfaction and joy over the success of the bid, it has not been without repercussions.
Washington has warned it could withhold funds to the already cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, and Israel said Sunday it would not transfer millions of dollars it collects in tax funds for the Palestinians in response to the UN bid.
And on Friday, Israel revealed plans to build 3,000 settler homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank in response to the bid.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Sunday urged Israel to annul plans to build 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying it would be "an obstacle to peace".
"The European Union has repeatedly stated that all settlement construction is illegal under international law and constitutes an obstacle to peace," Ashton said in a statement.
"I ask the government of Israel to show its commitment to the early renewal of negotiations to end the conflict and the occupation by not taking forward these plans," she added.