Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday to bid farewell to Saeb Erekat, the veteran negotiator who died from Covid-19 after decades pushing for a peace deal.
Three days of mourning have been declared by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who wore a face mask as his former advisor’s coffin arrived at the presidential compound in Ramallah.
Draped in a Palestinian flag and a keffiyeh, the coffin was carried through a plaza where officials and relatives waited as a band played on.
Erekat served as secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and was a key player in the Oslo accords of the 1990s and other peace talks.
The 65-year-old’s death on Tuesday was met with condolences from governments around the world, as well as the European Union and the United Nations.
“Today Palestine bids farewell to one of its fierce and passionate leaders,” the PLO’s negotiations department wrote on Twitter as it praised his “resilience and dedication”.
Following the ceremony in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government, the procession carrying Erekat’s coffin drove past the PLO headquarters and on to the city of Jericho in the Jordan Valley.
Mourners gathered outside Erekat’s home and accompanied the funeral procession, some carrying photos of him and clutching Palestinian flags. After prayers at a Jericho mosque, Erekat was buried in a cemetery lined with palm trees.
“To all the Palestinian people, my father is also your father and the father of the Palestinian cause,” his daughter Salam Erekat said by his graveside, her voice breaking into tears.
Her father died three weeks after being transferred to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, the city of his birth. Erekat was a particularly vulnerable patient as he underwent a lung transplant in 2017.
More than 70,000 coronavirus cases have been registered in the Palestinian territories, with 607 deaths, World Health Organisation figures show.
Wednesday’s funeral fell on the 16th anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom Erekat served as he pushed for a two-state solution with a viable Palestinian nation.
Clinching such a deal proved impossible in his later life, however, with no Israeli-Palestinian talks in recent years and a shift in US policy under President Donald Trump which sidelined the Palestinians.
The Trump administration unveiled a controversial peace plan earlier this year, which proposed a rump state for the Palestinians and swept aside their fundamental demands, including a capital in east Jerusalem.
There are hopes within the Palestinian leadership that Joe Biden, the US president-elect, could adopt a more conciliatory tone towards the Palestinians when he takes office in January.
Speaking of Erekat’s legacy, UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, said “now is the time to continue his crucial work" and achieve a peace agreement.
In a note of condolence, Mr Guterres described Mr Erekat as a friend who was “dedicated to the peaceful pursuit of justice, dignity and the legitimate rights of Palestinians to self-determination, sovereignty and statehood.”
Agencies contributed to this report