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Italy upgrades Palestinian delegation to mission

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(BETHLEHEM) - Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said on Monday that his country has decided to upgrade the head of the Palestinian delegation in Rome to ambassadorial status.

"I have been authorised to announce the decision of the government to upgrade the status of the diplomatic delegation of the Palestinian Authority to Italy," he said at a joint news conference with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

"As a consequence, the chief of the diplomatic mission will be accredited with the rank of Palestinian ambassador to Rome," Napolitano said.

The decision makes Italy the eighth European Union member to elevate the status of Palestinian delegations, as talks between Israel and the Palestinians remain stalled over the issue of settlement building.

It follows Cyprus, Denmark, Britain, France, Ireland, Portugal and Spain.

The Palestinians plan to ask the United Nations to recognise them as an independent state when the body's General Assembly convenes in September and have sought to upgrade ties on a bilateral basis ahead of the recognition push.

Many Latin American countries have already recognised Palestinian statehood, a notion France has also said it is considering.

Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met French and British leaders in a bid to persuade them that Abbas' recent reconciliation with the militant Islamic Hamas movement was grounds for refusing to recognise the interim government of independents called for in their unity deal.

Speaking alongside Napolitano at a Bethlehem press conference, Abbas insisted the rapprochement "does not come as a contradiction to peace."

"The next government will be composed of independents and its programme will be my programme and that of the Palestine Liberation Organisation," said Abbas, who heads the PLO, adding Netanyahu was now campaigning against Palestinian unity.

"After 63 years of nakba, displacement of Palestinians and the occupation of our country, it is time for Israel to take note that the people have not disappeared and have not forgotten and that the historic opportunity for a solution still exists, he said.

The founding of the Israeli state on May 15, 1948 is known in Arabic as the "nakba" or "catastrophe."

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