BEIRUT - Saeed Akl, Lebanon's leading poet whose fame spread throughout the Arab world, has died, state media and officials said Friday. He was 102.
The ultranationalist Akl wrote his poems in classical Arabic and the Lebanese dialect, which he referred to as "the Lebanese language." Some of his most famous poems were sung by Lebanon's top singer, Fayrouz, including the emotional "Take Me Back to My Country," a song that was played endlessly on radios during the country's 15-year civil war.
He also wrote a song about the Palestinian struggle, "Now, and not tomorrow, the bells of return shall ring," written after Israel seized east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967.
But during the 1975-1990 civil war, Akl was known for his anti-Palestinian statements, and once praised the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin for invading Lebanon.
"The hero Begin should continue cleansing Lebanon to the last Palestinian," he said in an interview in 1982, the year the Jewish State began an 18-year occupation of Lebanon.
Akl was born in 1912 to a Maronite Catholic family in Lebanon's eastern city of Zahle. After the death of his father, Akl dropped out of school at the age of 15 to help his family.
He later wrote for leading Lebanese newspapers and magazines, and penned some plays.
"Lebanon and the Arabs lost one of the giants of poetry," wrote former Prime Minister Saad Hariri on his Twitter account.