Page last updated at 14:34 GMT, Wednesday, 13 August 2008 15:34 UK

Palestinians say farewell to poet


The poet's coffin was received in Amman by an honour guard

Crowds of Palestinians have paid their last respects to poet Mahmoud Darwish in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Leading mourners, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas described the poet and author as a hero for all Palestinians.

Darwish was one of the most influential cultural figures in recent Arab history, encapsulating the Palestinian longing for independence.

He died after open-heart surgery in Houston, Texas, on Saturday at the age of 67.

Thousands of black-clad mourners lined the streets of Ramallah - many clutching portraits of the poet and Palestinian flags.

Thousands gathered in Ramallah to pay their last respects

A military convoy took the coffin, draped with a Palestinian flag and yellow flowers, to Darwish's grave near the Palace of Culture, about 4km (2.5 miles) away from central Ramallah.

"Oh Mahmoud, Oh Mahmoud, you rest and we will continue the struggle," mourners chanted as the poet was buried to a 21-shot salute.

His poems were recited over loudspeakers, and Mr Abbas read a eulogy.

"He was the master of the word and wisdom, the symbol who expressed our national feeling, our human constitution, our declaration of independence," Mr Abbas said.

"You remain with us, Mahmoud, because you represent everything that unites us."

National icon

Darwish's body was flown back from the US to Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday where an honour guard saluted as Palestinian Liberation Army officers carried the flag-draped coffin from the plane.

The coffin was then taken by military helicopter to Ramallah for the funeral - the biggest in the West Bank since that of Yasser Arafat in 2004.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool, in Ramallah, says people of all backgrounds in the West Bank feel they had a personal connection to the poet, and take pride in a man who told their story in a way they could not.

Darwish was regarded as a national icon, whose work was often based on his experiences of life in exile.

"He symbolises the Palestinian memory," one Palestinian mourner told the BBC.

"He intended to convey a message: in the end we are all human beings and we have to work collectively for the sake of humanity."

Arafat's speech

Thousands would flock to his recitals and his poems were transformed into popular songs and used in political speeches. The words he wrote now form part of Palestinian daily life, our correspondent says.

Mahmoud Darwish
Darwish won many international prizes for his work

Nor was he shy of talking of his people's shortcomings.

Darwish penned fierce criticism of the divisions among Palestinians, believing, in some ways, what they were doing to themselves was worse than anything others had done to them.

He also wrote the famous speech Arafat delivered at the United Nations in 1974: "Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."

There is little doubt his work, not just on the Palestinian cause, but on love and hope and death, will endure across the Arab world, our correspondent says.

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