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Senior PLO official Saeb Erekat dies of covid aged 65

Dr Saeb Erekat, the Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, passed away from COVID-19, Israel’s Hadassah-University Medical Centre and the Palestinian Fatah movement announced.

The veteran PLO official contracted coronavirus on 8 October, his condition became critical ten days later and he was transferred to intensive care where he was placed on a ventilator.

Erekat suffered from a number of medical issues and underwent a lung transplant in 2017at Inova Fairfax Hospital in northern Virginia, US, after suffering from a severe respiratory illness.

Three days of mourning have been announced in the Palestinian territories following his death, with flags flying at half-mast. In a statement Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said: “The Palestinian nation lost a man who stood at the forefront of the struggle of rights for the Palestinian people, fought in every local and international arena and brought the name of Palestine to every possible stage in the world.”

Erekat was born in 1955 in the Palestinian village of Abu Dis in occupied Jerusalem. He completed his BA in international relations in 1977, MA in political sciences in 1979 and PhD in peace and conflict studies from Bradford University in 1983.

In 1991, he was appointed by the late PLO and Fatah President Yasser Arafat as the deputy head of the Palestinian negotiating delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference and went on to play a role in peace talks between the PLO and the occupation in 1992 and 1993 which led to the signing of the Oslo Accords.

Erekat remained a prominent Palestinian Authority (PA) and PLO official after Arafat’s death, becoming one of current President Mahmoud Abbas’ closest advisers. He was later appointed head of the PLO Negotiating Department in 2005.

He has on numerous occasions been tipped to become PA president after Abbas steps down.

Erekat had never spent time in Israeli jails and has consistently called for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.