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H. Abdel Shafi, 88; PLO negotiator led peace talks in '90s

September 26, 2007|From Times Wire Reports

Haidar Abdel Shafi, a former Palestinian negotiator, leading nationalist and physician, died of stomach cancer Tuesday at his home in the Gaza Strip, said his son Khaled. He was 88.

The charismatic, lanky gadfly to the late Yasser Arafat was most known internationally for leading the Palestinian team with Jordan to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991 and to peace talks in Washington in the two years following.

Abdel Shafi resigned his negotiating post in 1993 over the Oslo peace agreements with Israel, predicting that the process would collapse over the failure of the deals to tackle the issue of Jewish settlements on land Palestinians want for a state.

A final peace agreement has since eluded the sides, and in fighting that broke out in 2000, nearly 4,500 Palestinians and more than 1,100 Israelis have been killed.

Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah, in a rare show of unity, issued statements mourning Abdel Shafi's death.

He was known as a die-hard critic of Arafat and his concessions to Israel in peace talks.

In 1996, Abdel Shafi, a lawmaker at the time, walked out of a meeting of the Palestinian legislature to protest Arafat's decision to amend the charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization to recognize Israel when the Jewish state did not give the Palestinians independence. Abdel Shafi resigned from the legislature in 1998, saying it did not have enough teeth to effect real change.

Abdel Shafi was born in the Gaza Strip in 1919 and studied medicine at American University in Beirut. It was there that he began his political activity with Arab nationalists aiming to establish a Palestinian state.

He returned to the Gaza Strip and helped facilitate medical care for tens of thousands of Palestinians who fled the fighting that led to the founding of Israel in 1948.

In the early 1950s he studied surgery at the Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio.

In 1964, Abdel Shafi was a member of the first all-Palestinian conference that established the PLO in Jerusalem.

By 1966 he was the leading PLO figure in the Gaza Strip and was detained and deported by Israel when its forces occupied the coastal territory in 1967.

In 1971 he returned to Gaza and a year later founded the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

He is survived by his wife, four children and eight grandchildren.

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