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Palestinians Mourn Death of 'National Poet' Mahmoud Darwish

Palestinians are mourning the death Saturday of renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who was considered a cultural icon. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

The muezzin chanted a mournful dirge as Palestinians observed three days of mourning for Mahmoud Darwish, described as their "National Poet." He died Saturday after heart surgery, at the age of 67.

Darwish eloquently expressed the dream of Palestinian statehood and helped forge a Palestinian national identity.

His poetry readings are being broadcast on Palestinian TV and radio.

In this reading, described as his "national hymn," Darwish speaks of a land called Palestine, a name that was and is and will endure.

His poetry deals with the themes of displacement and exile. Darwish was seven years old when Israel became a state in 1948. His family fled when their village was destroyed near what is today the Israeli port city of Haifa. He lived in exile in Cairo, Beirut, Tunis and Paris until returning to the West Bank in 1996.

Jawad Boulus was his personal friend.

Boulous told Israel Radio that Darwish's poetry embodied the pain of exile and the hope of return.

But Darwish was not optimistic. He saw the peace process with Israel as a failure and was heartbroken by the Palestinian civil war a year ago, which left the Islamic militant group Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip and the more moderate Fatah faction ruling the West Bank.

Friends say he lamented that a Palestinian state is no closer now than when he began writing nearly 50 years ago.