PLO's Saeb Erekat laid to rest with full honours

(This Nov. 11 story has been corrected to replace ‘soldiers’ with ‘security officers’ in paragraphs 8 and 10)

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - As the sun began to set over his home city of Jericho, veteran Palestinian peacemaker Saeb Erekat was laid to rest on Wednesday after a memorial ceremony and funeral attended by hundreds.

Erekat, 65, died on Tuesday in Jerusalem - the city whose eastern half he had claimed throughout a lifelong struggle for a negotiated Palestinian state that he never lived to see.

“To all the Palestinian people, my father is also your father and the father of the Palestinian cause,” his daughter, Dr. Salam Erekat - her first name means ‘Peace’ in Arabic - said by his graveside in the Jordan Valley, her voice breaking into tears.

A long-serving member of the nationalist party Fatah, Erekat was secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a confidant and adviser to its former leader Yasser Arafat and his successor, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

He announced a month ago he had contracted the coronavirus, and died on Tuesday after three weeks in a coma in an Israeli hospital in Jerusalem.

Erekat led the Palestinians in peace talks with Israel for many years until negotiations collapsed in 2014. In the final year of his life he was the main public face of Palestinian opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump’s blueprint for the Middle East, which would leave Israel in control of large parts of the occupied West Bank where Palestinians want a state.

Slideshow ( 5 images )


Erekat’s memorial took place on the anniversary of Arafat’s death in 2004, marked in a separate ceremony earlier in the day.

In Ramallah, a procession of Palestinian security officers carried Erekat’s coffin through an outdoor plaza in Abbas’s presidential compound. An honour guard laid a wreath over his coffin. Abbas and other senior officials waved goodbye as the body was driven to Jericho for burial.

A large crowd gathered outside Erekat’s Jericho home as his coffin was carried inside and his family privately bade him farewell.

Hundreds of mourners waving Palestinian flags and chanting “God is greatest” later joined in the funeral as he was buried in a palm tree-lined cemetery. Security officers fired a rifle salute as a prayer was recited over the grave.

Writing by Rami Ayyub and Stephen Farrell; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Peter Graff and Giles Elgood