(Reuters) - The United Nations' cultural agency granted the Palestinians full membership on Monday, a step forward in their long-running efforts to achieve recognition before the world as an independent state.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) became the first U.N. agency to welcome the Palestinians as a full member since President Mahmoud Abbas applied for full membership of the United Nations on September 23.
A huge cheer erupted in UNESCO's General Assembly after the vote, which marks a symbolic victory for Palestinians in the complex diplomacy that surrounds their collective status and relations with foreign powers.
"Today's victory at UNESCO is the beginning of a road that is difficult, but will lead to the freedom of our land and people from occupation," Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said. "Palestine has the right to a place on the map."
Israel called the vote a "tragedy" and the decision damaged relations between UNESCO and the United States, an ally of Israel that provides about 22 percent of the body's funding, or some $70 million.