WASHINGTON (AFP) — Mahmud Darwish, widely considered one of the greatest Palestinian poets, died Saturday in a US hospital following open-heart surgery, hospital officials told AFP.
"Mr Darwish has died at 1:35 pm (1835 GMT)," Ann Brimberry, a spokeswoman for the Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas, where he was being treated told AFP.
The 67-year-old writer was placed on life support two days ago following complications arising from the surgery, a friend told AFP in Jerusalem earlier, asking not to be named.
Darwish has published more than two dozen books of poetry and prose rooted in his experience of Palestinian exile and the bitter Middle East conflict, in a career spanning nearly five decades.
Widely considered one of the Arab world's greatest poets, Darwish has been harshly critical of Israel over the years and was detained several times in the 1960s before going into self-imposed exile in 1970.
Over the next 25 years Darwish wandered from place to place, spending time in several Arab capitals and briefly residing in Moscow and Paris.
He received numerous literary awards during his career, including the Ibn Sina Prize, the Lenin Peace Prize, the 1969 Lotus prize from the Union of Afro-Asian Writers, France's Knight of Arts and Belles Lettres medal in 1997, the 2001 Prize for Cultural Freedom from the Lannan Foundation, the Moroccan Wissam of intellectual merit handed to him by King Mohammad VI of Morocco, and the Stalin Peace Prize, according to the Academy of American Poets.
"Darwish is the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging," the poet Naomi Shihab Nye once said of him.
Born in 1941 in an Arab village in what is now northern Israel, Darwish and his family were expelled during the 1948 war that followed the creation of the Jewish state, though they returned to Israel a few years later.
A sequence of poetic prose written about his experience living in Beirut during the Israeli invasion and bombardment of Lebanon in 1982 was translated into English in 1995 under the title "Memory for Forgetfulness."
In 1988 he wrote the official Palestinian declaration of independence and served on the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) until 1993, when he resigned in protest at the Oslo autonomy accords.
He has been living in the West Bank town of Ramallah since 1995.
In 2000, a proposal by then Israeli education minister Yossi Sarid to teach Darwish's works in public schools sparked a political firestorm and led the right-wing opposition to register a no-confidence vote in the government.
In July 2007, Darwish decried the Islamist Hamas movement's bloody takeover of the Gaza Strip a month earlier in his first poetry recital in Israel since quitting the Jewish state in 1970.
"We woke up from a coma to see a monocolored flag (of Hamas) do away with the four-color flag (of Palestine)," Darwish said before some 2,000 people who attended the reading in the northern port city of Haifa.
"We have triumphed," he said with thick irony. "Gaza won its independence from the West Bank. One people now have two states, two prisons who don't greet each other. We are victims dressed in executioners' clothing."
"We have triumphed knowing that it is the occupier who really won."
Following news of Darwish's death, the Palestinian ambassador to Jordan said Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas would send a plane to repatriate the body.
Atallah Kheiry also told AFP in Amman that Abbas had "asked Palestinian officials to contact the Israeli authorities to press them (to allow) for the burial of Darwish in his native Galilee," in northern Israel.
Darwish previously underwent heart surgery in 1984 and 1998, with the latter operation inspiring the following verse: "I have defeated you, death/ All the beautiful arts have defeated you/ The songs of Mesopotamia, the obelisks of Egypt, the carved tombs of the pharaohs on the altar have defeated you, and you are vanquished."
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