Sweden has announced that it will officially recognize the state of Palestine on Thursday. It will become the first EU member in western Europe to do so, in a move strongly condemned by Israel.
"Today the government takes the decision to recognize the state of Palestine," Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said on Thursday in a statement published in the Dagens Nyheter daily.
"It is an important step that confirms the Palestinians' right to self-determination," she said, adding that the government considered that criteria in international law for recognizing a Palestinian state had been met.
The Swedish government announced its plans to acknowledge Palestinian statehood on October 3 - a declaration that met with condemnation from Israel and criticism from the United States, which said the move was "premature."
Wallstrom, however, countered the US rebuke, saying: "There are those who will claim that today's decision comes too soon. I fear it is rather too late."
'Brave and historic'
Israel has summoned Sweden's ambassador to protest at the move. The Jewish state has long insisted that direct negotiations, and not other diplomatic channels, were the only path to Palestinian statehood.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, on the other hand, has hailed the decision.
The Palestinian leader had described the move as "brave and historic," his spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeina, told AFP news agency.
Seven European Union members in eastern Europe and the Mediterranean have already recognized Palestine as a state: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Romania. Iceland, which does not belong to the EU, is the only other western European nation to have done so.
Two weeks ago, the British House of Commons passed a non-binding motion in favor of recognizing Palestine as a state, but the vote was without legislative force.
tj/nm (AFP, dpa)