Surrounded by family and fellow Palestinian leaders and friends, Dr. Saeb Erekat was laid to rest in the cemetery of his town Jericho in the West Bank on Wednesday.

The ceremony was held during the Asr time, the afternoon prayer, and the sound of the Muezzin was heard over the gravesite. Hundreds gathered along the road to the cemetery to bid him a last farewell. 

Earlier Wednesday, in a military ceremony, Erekat’s coffin was brought to the Mukataa, the presidential quarters in Ramallah. President Mahmud Abbas and other senior officials watched as two soldiers laid a wreath over the coffin, draped with the Palestinian flag and a black-and-white Keffiyeh — a traditional Palestinian checkered scarf that has become a national symbol and was worn by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. 

EREKAT, LONGTIME SPOKESMAN FOR THE PALESTINIANS, DIES AT 65

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning in Palestinian Authority-ruled areas of the West Bank. He called Erekat a “great fighter who had a great role in raising the banner of Palestine high and defending the rights of our people… in all international forums.”

Erekat passed away Tuesday in a Jerusalem hospital after he was admitted in critical condition three weeks ago with COVID-19. 

According to Hadassah hospital during his hospitalization, he received intensive treatments that included a heart-lung machine (ECMO) and drug treatments provided by Hadassah’s top specialists. He died, according to the statement, due to multiple organ failure.

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Erekat, a tenacious negotiator, was a prominent voice and figure in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations throughout the years. He took part in every meeting between the negotiators of both sides, since the Madrid conference in 1991 and onward. He was among the main authors of the Oslo accords, the first agreement between the Israeli and the Palestinians, which established the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza. 

Erekat was known for his fierce devotion but had expectational friendly ties with some of his counterparts despite ideological disagreements.  

Jason Greenblat, the former assistant to the president and Special Representative for International Negotiations by President Trump, tweeted: “Saeb and I were worlds apart in our views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its history and how to resolve it. But He tried hard to represent his people.” 

Tony Blair, former British prime minister and ex-envoy for the Middle East Quartet, said that despite the many differences over the peace process: “I never doubted for one moment his sincerity, his knowledge or his deep and abiding commitment to the Palestinian people and peace. He was a legendary negotiator, aware of every intricacy and detail of the ‘two-state solution’ and a tireless advocate of it.”

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Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni recalled that he texted her recently: “I’m not finished with what I was born to do,” Erekat wrote.

Commenting on Erekat’s death, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “Now is the time to continue his crucial work,” by renewing negotiations toward a “just and sustainable two-state solution.”

Erekat has survived by his wife Naemah, two daughters, Dalal and Salam, and two sons, Ali and Muhammad. 

Earlier Wednesday, the Palestinians commemorated the 16th anniversary of the death of their leader Yasser Arafat and a long friend and partner of Erekat.