Top Palestinian official dies of coronavirus after several weeks in hospital

James Rothwell
·2 min read
Saeb Erekat, a senior PLO official, has died of coronavirus aged 65 - Shutterstock
Saeb Erekat, a senior PLO official, has died of coronavirus aged 65 - Shutterstock

Saeb Erekat, one of the most prominent figures in the Palestinian Authority, has died after a lengthy battle with coronavirus. 

According to his relatives, Mr Erekat passed away on Tuesday. He was a passionate supporter of the Palestinian cause for several decades. 

The 65-year-old was a high-profile spokesman for both Yasser Arafat, the former leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and his successor Mahmoud Abbas. 

He had spent several weeks in a hospital in Jerusalem and was already suffering from severe health problems, following a lung transplant in 2017. 

"With hearts full of sorrow and pain, and with patience, Erekat’s clan everywhere mourns to the Palestinian Arab people, and to the Arab and Muslim nation, Saeb Erekat,” a spokesman for his family wrote on Facebook. 

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has described his death as a “huge loss” for the Palestinian cause. 

A spokesman for the Israeli hospital Hadassah Medical Centre, where he was being treated, said he had “passed away in the intensive care unit” where he had been in critical condition for several weeks. 

Fatah, Mr Erekat’s political party, also confirmed his death in a statement. 

File image from 2014 where US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, listens to Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat - Brendan Smialowski/ AFP
File image from 2014 where US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, listens to Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat - Brendan Smialowski/ AFP

The US-educated diplomat was involved in nearly every round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, including the Madrid conference in 1991. 

More recently, he was a vocal opponent of Israel’s controversial plans to annex up to 30 per cent of the West Bank, as well as the normalisation deals with wealthy Gulf states. 

“I never expected this poison dagger to come from an Arab country,” he said in response to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signing peace agreements with Israel in September. 

“I am standing up for the last six months facing Trump and Netanyahu….and then comes an Arab leader to say I want to reward you for all of this,” he added, referring to the Israeli occupation of land claimed by the Palestinians as their own.