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Erekat on life support but ‘stable’ as daughter holds out hope for recovery

Senior Palestinian negotiator in critical condition with COVID-19 at Jerusalem hospital, connected to ECMO machine; ‘God willing, his condition will improve,’ daughter says

Saeb Erekat speaks to journalists after a meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah II, at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan, on January 29, 2018. (Khalil Mazraawi, Pool Photo via AP)
Saeb Erekat speaks to journalists after a meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah II, at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan, on January 29, 2018. (Khalil Mazraawi, Pool Photo via AP)

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat was hooked up to a machine to artificially oxygenate his blood Tuesday after falling severely ill with COVID-19, his office reported.

Erekat, who was rushed to Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem two days ago, was being supported by an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, as well as a ventilator.

The relatively rare medical device is occasionally used as a last resort for patients whose taxed bodies cannot absorb enough oxygen, even with a ventilator. It pumps blood out of the body and artificially adds oxygen to it before sending it back into the patient’s circulation.

“My father is still in the intensive care unit. His condition is stable with ventilator support. Today, he was connected to the ECMO machine to support the lung and prevent its damage. God willing, his condition will improve,” said Erekat’s daughter Salam, who is also a physician.

A hospital spokesperson said that Erekat “is now well-settled and stable on ECMO with excellent oxygenation, and on reduced mechanical ventilation which is not damaging to the lungs. His care continues to be coordinated with lung transplant specialists in Israel and abroad to provide optimum care to this patient with complications of COVID-19 infection, on the background of a previous lung transplant.”

The hospital noted that the use of the ECMO was not caused by any deterioration in his condition.

Erekat, 65, has been one of the Palestinians’ most recognizable faces over the past several decades, serving as a senior negotiator in talks with Israel. He was also a senior adviser to late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

He was admitted Sunday to the Jerusalem hospital despite the Palestinian leadership’s decision earlier this year to sever ties with Israel, over its plans to begin annexing parts of the West Bank as part of US President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan. The annexation plans have since been halted, with no stated return date.

The hospital said Monday that Erekat’s case was extremely challenging in light of his history of health problems, including a lung transplant in 2017. It said he suffered from a weak immune system and a bacterial infection in addition to COVID-19.

One of the architects of the Oslo peace accords, Erekat has been the PLO’s chief negotiator since 1995. Erekat has led numerous rounds of peace talks with Israel for over two decades and continues to play a central role in Palestinian politics.

Erekat had been in isolation in his house in Jericho since his diagnosis earlier this month. He had initially only experienced light coronavirus symptoms, including a fever.

Magen David Adom paramedics, escorted by IDF soldiers, arrived at Erekat’s West Bank home on Sunday afternoon to take him to Jerusalem, according to Channel 12 news.

A Fatah spokesperson tweeted at the time that Erekat was moved to the hospital due to complications from the lung transplant he underwent three years ago, and not due to his coronavirus infection. The official explained that Hadassah was chosen because it is the nearest medical center that has the required equipment and medical teams to deal with the specific problem.

Several Israeli lawmakers on Sunday condemned the decision to admit Erekat to a Jerusalem hospital, saying that Israel should have demanded that the Hamas terror group in Gaza first return the captives and bodies of soldiers it is holding.

It was unclear why the MKs believed that the Hamas terror group, which has ruled Gaza since ousting Abbas’s rival forces in 2007, would make such a major concession to save Erekat, one of Abbas’s top officials.

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