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Top Palestinian official Erekat, now critical, put on ventilator in Jerusalem

Chief PA negotiator intubated, sedated after transfer to Hadassah Ein Kerem with COVID-19; hospital says treatment due to his lung transplant is ‘complex’

Palestinian Saeb Erekat during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, September 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Palestinian Saeb Erekat during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, September 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat was downgraded to critical condition Monday morning at a Jerusalem hospital where he was moved for treatment a day earlier after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a close confidant of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, was put on a ventilator and his overall medical condition is posing a unique challenge for the staff, Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital said.

“Erekat had a quiet night but this morning his condition deteriorated and is now defined as critical, and due to respiratory distress he was intubated and sedated,” the hospital said in a statement.

“Erekat poses a huge challenge in the treatment of the coronavirus due to his lung transplant and its suppression of the immune system, and with a bacterial infection in addition to the coronavirus,” the hospital said. “Hadassah, with its most senior professional physicians, is in contact with international medical professionals regarding such a complex patient care policy.”

Erekat, 65, survived a mild heart attack in 2012 and a 2017 lung transplant after years of suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that scars the lungs and damages their ability to circulate oxygen.

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.

Screen capture from video of secretary General of the PLO Executive Committee and senior Palestinian negotiator in peace talks with Israel, Saeb Erekat, during an interview with Palestinian television in which he revealed he is waiting for a lung transplant. (YouTube/Pal TV)

He was hospitalized in Jerusalem on Sunday after the Palestinian Authority asked Israel to provide him immediate medical care.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Hadassah said that Erekat was brought to the hospital in serious condition and required oxygen.

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 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 relevant equipment and medical teams to deal with the specific problem.

Illustrative: Magen David Adom workers wearing protective clothing at Hadassah Ein Karem Medical Center in Jerusalem, on July 20, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Several Israeli lawmakers on Sunday condemned the decision to admit him 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.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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