On the 16th anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, preparations were underway on Wednesday for the funeral of his former confidant and spokesman Saeb Erekat, who died after contracting COVID-19.
Erekat, 65, served Arafat and his successor President Mahmoud Abbas as chief negotiator. As Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization, he was one of the most impassioned defenders of the Palestinian quest for statehood over decades of conflict with Israel.
On Wednesday, Abbas will lay a wreath at a memorial ceremony in the West Bank city of Ramallah - the seat of the Palestinian government. Abbas has declared three days of national mourning for the veteran Fatah loyalist he called "brother" and "friend."
A long-time resident of Jericho, the largest Palestinian city in the Jordan Valley, Erekat died on Tuesday after announcing on Oct. 8 that he had contracted the coronavirus.
A lung transplant three years ago left his immune system compromised, and his condition deteriorated. He was taken to an Israeli hospital in Jerusalem three weeks ago and was pronounced dead on Tuesday after multiple organ failure.
After the Ramallah memorial, a funeral convoy is due to drive from Ramallah to Jericho where his body will be carried in procession to a town mosque for prayers, as is typical in Muslim funerals.
A military ceremony is then expected to lead the procession to a nearby cemetery.
The sombre events take place as Palestinians mark the death of Arafat, who died in Paris on Nov. 11, 2004 and was flown back to Ramallah for burial, with a huge crowd in attendance as his body arrived by helicopter.
The official Palestinian news agency Wafa said that a rally would be held in Arafat's memory, and that participants would have to abide by coronavirus precautions.