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Thousands of people have been celebrating in Gaza, east Jerusalem and the West Bank after the UN voted to recognise Palestine as an observer state.

The UN General Assembly voted to upgrade the status of Palestine, which was previously defined as an observer entity, by 138 votes to 9. With this decision, Palestinians believe the UN has effectively endorsed the state of Palestine.

Huge crowds watched on giant screens in Ramallah, Gaza City and Bethlehem as the result of the vote was announced. The outcome was greeted with chants of "Allah Akbar(God is great)" amid a sea of Palestinian flags.

"It's a great feeling to have a state, even if in name only," said civil servant Mohammed Srour, 28. "The most beautiful dream of any man is to have an independent state, particularly for us Palestinians who have lived under occupation for a long time."

"We've been waiting for this moment for a long time,'' Mohamed Yousef, a 25-year old Ramallah barber, told The LA Times. "But we should not expect that just because we won the vote that the occupation will end. We still need the settlers to leave, prisoners to be released and refugees to come back."

Israel reaction

The UN vote was received with contrasting reactions in Israel.

"The resolution in the U.N. today won't change anything on the ground," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. "It won't advance the establishment of a Palestinian state, but rather, put it further off."

Netanyahu defined the speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as "meaningless," "defamatory and venomous" and "mendacious propaganda" against Israel. He also praised the nine states that voted against the resolution.

"Nine states lined up on the side of truth and peace. History will judge them favorably and all are worthy of praise," he told Israel Radio.

However the vote was welcomed by some members of the Jewish intelligentsia.

"Israel's security can only be assured when its neighbours believe that it is no longer oppressing the Palestinian people but instead living in peace and harmony with them," Rabbi Michael Lerner of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in Berkeley, California wrote to the CNN.

"Israel's fate and its well-being are intrinsically linked to the well-being of the Palestinian people. It's time for the powerful to show generosity to the relatively powerless."

"So those in the U.S. and Israel who want Israel to be secure should welcome the Palestinian Authority's decision to seek observer status as a non-member state in the United Nations."

Although Israeli left-wing activists welcomed Palestine's UN recognition, ultranationalist right-wing protesters supported by Israeli lawmaker Michael Ben Ari staged a demonstration outside the United Nations offices in the West Bank village of Jabel Mukaber, near Jerusalem and attempted to burn a Palestinian flag.

However Israeli police intervened and took the flag away before it could be set on fire.