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Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat dies after contracting COVID-19

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat dies after contracting COVID-19
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Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who spent more than three decades leading peace talks with Israel, died Tuesday weeks after contracting COVID-19. He was 65. 

Erekat’s death, reported by The Associated Press and Reuters, prompted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to declare a three-day mourning period in which flags will be flown at half-staff. 

“The departure of the brother and the friend, the great fighter Saeb Erekat, represents a big loss for Palestine and for our people,” Abbas’s office in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank said in a statement, according to Reuters.

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“We feel deep sorrow for losing him, especially at such difficult times the Palestinian cause is living through,” the office added. 

The AP reported that Erekat had received a lung transplant in 2017, putting him in a higher risk category for complications from the coronavirus. 

Erekat, who served as the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, confirmed on Oct. 8 that he had contracted the virus. 

Erekat’s son Ali confirmed that he passed away, and the Hadassah Medical Center, the Israeli hospital where he had been receiving intensive care for three weeks, also announced his passing, according to the AP. 

Erekat was involved in nearly every series of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians since the Madrid conference in 1991. He consistently advocated for a two-state solution to the conflict, and repeatedly blamed Israel for the absence of an agreement. 

According to the AP, Erekat and his allies’ push for a two-state solution had received less international support in recent months with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain normalizing ties with Israel, breaking with the long-held Arab position that a deal on Palestinian statehood must come before normalization.

In September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE signed an agreement with Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, foreign minister of Bahrain, and Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, foreign minister of the UAE, to establish diplomatic relations during an event on the South Lawn of the White House. 

The agreement, called the “Abraham Accords,” resulted from talks brokered by the Trump administration and marked the first time an Arab country had normalized relations with Israel since Jordan in 1994 and Egypt in 1979.