‘Arab Idol’ winner in triumphant return to Gaza

‘Arab Idol’ winner in triumphant return to Gaza

RAFAH - Agence France-Presse
‘Arab Idol’ winner in triumphant return to Gaza

Assaf speaks to the crowds as he crosses the Rafah crossing terminal. AFP photo

Thousands of Gazans gave an ecstatic welcome to Mohammed Assaf on June 25, as the 23-year-old Palestinian singer returned home after winning this year’s Arab Idol talent competition.

Young and old waved Palestinian flags and held up posters of Assaf, raising banners congratulating him on his win in Beirut on Saturday, when he beat off stiff competition from fellow singers from across the Arab world.

Recordings of Assaf’s songs blasted out from loudspeakers while crowds thronged his motorcade as it made its way up the Gaza Strip after crossing the Rafah border from Egypt.

Huge crowds also gathered outside his home in the southern city of Khan Yunis.

The meteoric rise of Gaza’s Assaf to snatch the top prize in the pan-Arab singing contest sparked an unprecedented outpouring of joy across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, bringing rare unity to the divided territories.

“We are making him an official welcome,” said Gaza’s culture ministry director Fakri Judeh, at the head of a Hamas government delegation to receive him. “We hope he will use his God-given talent to serve the Palestinian cause.”

Assaf bent over and kissed the ground as he crossed the border, an AFP correspondent reported, before holding a news conference alongside officials from Gaza’s ruling Islamist Hamas movement.

 “I thank you for your wonderful welcome and hope the celebrations won’t feature gunfire,” Assaf said, alluding to the shots in the air that sometimes accompany celebrations in the Middle East.