Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared a three-day mourning period for Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator who died Tuesday after contracting COVID-19.
Erekat, 65, died at Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Kerem, where he had been receiving treatment for several weeks. The Jerusalem hospital said last month that he was in critical condition and on a ventilator. He underwent a lung transplant in 2017.
"The departure of the brother and the friend, the great fighter Saeb Erekat, represents a big loss for Palestine and for our people," Abbas' office in the West Bank city of Ramallah said in a statement.
"We feel deep sorrow for losing him, especially at such difficult times the Palestinian cause is living through."
Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), confirmed on Oct. 8 that he had contracted the coronavirus. Three years earlier he had undergone a lung transplant in the United States that left his immune system compromised.
Erekat's family said he "transitioned peacefully" in hospital on Tuesday. "Saeb lived a life full of thought, love, forgiveness and peace and he will be dearly missed," they said in a statement.
"Saeb has shown an extraordinary patience and resilience, with the same determination that has characterized his career to achieve freedom for Palestine and a just and lasting peace in our region."
Erekat was also eulogized by his Palestinian political opponents, including the Hamas terror group, which sent condolences to the negotiator's family and the Palestinian people.
"We mourn to our people a national leader and a fighter, Doctor Saeb Erekat, and we pay our condolences to his comrades in the Fatah Central Committee and to President Mahmoud Abbas," Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh also spoke on the phone with Abbas and praised Erekat for his actions in defending the Palestinian people's rights.
Mohammed Dahlan, the exiled Fatah official who was seen as potential rival to Erekat for the PA leadership after Abbas, said on Twitter that he offered "sincere condolences to the family of our brother and friend."
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, veteran Palestinian negotiator, said she was mourning a friend as well as a colleague.
"Today, we mourn the loss of a dear colleague and a Palestinian patriot; someone who loved life and fought hard to secure a life of freedom for himself and his people," she said.
"Personally, I mourn the loss of a friend and colleague with whom I worked since the 1980s in pursuit of our people's unassailable right to a life of dignity, justice, freedom, and rights, free from the brutality of Israel's domination and military occupation."
Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who led Israel's team in negotiations with the Palestinians during the Obama presidency, said she was "saddened" by Erekat's death.
"Saeb dedicated his life to his people," Livni wrote on Twitter.
"Reaching Peace is my destiny he used to say. Being sick, he texted me: 'I’m not finished with what I was born to do'. My deepest condolences to the Palestinians and his family. He will be missed."
Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi also expressed his sorrow at Erekat's death on Twitter, calling him a friend and a "courageous leader."
The head of Tibi's party, Ayman Odeh, said: "We will remember Saeb Erekat when this great people will celebrate victory and celebrate in Jerusalem, the capital. We will remember he who had spent his life for the sake of this people and their legitimate rights."
Israel's left-wing Meretz party called for both sides to continue what it said was Erekat's legacy of peace-making efforts.
"Dr. Saeb Erekat worked his whole life for peace, supported the two-state solution and opposed violence. Now we must continue on his path towards a just peace and an end to the conflict," the party said.
Diplomats from around the world also paid tribute to the veteran negotiator.
United Nations special envoy to the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, praised Erekat as someone who "never gave up on negotiations" with Israel.
"I extend my deepest condolences to the family of #SaebErekat and the Palestinian people," Mladenov wrote on Twitter.
"You remained convinced that #Israel and #Palestine can live in #peace; never gave up on negotiations; and stood proudly for your people! We will miss you, my friend. May you rest in peace!"
Former British prime minister and ex-envoy for the Middle East Quartet, Tony Blair said: "Saeb Erekat and I had many differences over the peace process and how to bring it to a successful conclusion. But I never doubted for one moment his sincerity, his knowledge or his deep and abiding commitment to the Palestinian people and to peace.
"He was a legendary negotiator, aware of every intricacy and detail of the 'two-state solution' and a tireless advocate of it.
"He dedicated his life to the cause of an independent sovereign State of Palestine and it is tragic that he never lived to see it come into being. But when it does, he will be remembered as one of its core architects. My thoughts and condolences are with his family. May he rest in peace."
The U.S. State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs said: "The Press Office for Near Eastern Affairs offers condolences on the death of Saeb Erekat. Our hearts and prayers are with his family in these difficult times."
Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel under Bill Clinton and special envoy to Israeli–Palestinian talks for Barack Obama, called Erekat his "peace brother."
"Rest In Peace my peace brother," Indyk wrote on Twitter.
"Your commitment to pursuing freedom for your people by peaceful means will shine forever as a beacon that will guide them onwards. May your memory be a blessing to Naema and your family and all those who loved you."
First published: 13:37 , 11.10.20