The President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, applauds during a ceremony to lay the cornerstone for a a Palestine Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil. Abbas is in Brazil to attend the inauguration of President-elect Dilma Rousseff on January 1, 2011, reflecting Brazil's decision this month to recognize a Palestinian state, a decision since followed by Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay. -AFP Photo

BRASILIA: Palestinian president Mahmud 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 US 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. 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.

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.

On Saturday, the Palestinian leader was to attend the inauguaration 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.

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

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