Arab Idol champ in Gaza, urges Palestinian unity


KHAN YOUNIS REFUGEE CAMP (AP) – Palestinians have a new voice: a 23-year-old wedding singer from a Gaza refugee camp touted as a rare symbol of national unity after he won the Arab world’s top TV contest.


But Mohammed Assaf’s homecoming Tuesday highlighted the harsh reality of political divisions between the militants who rule Gaza and the Palestinian president in the West Bank.


Even as thousands thronged the streets in a frenzied welcome for the newly crowned winner of “Arab Idol,” Hamas stayed away, unable to reconcile the young crooner’s triumph in the world of glitzy entertainment with their religious beliefs.


In contrast, Hamas’ main rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, portrayed the singer’s victory as an achievement for all Palestinians, apparently hoping Assaf’s popularity would rub off on him.


The singer with the silky voice and warm smile had put Palestinian pride center stage throughout the competition, bringing many in the audience to their feet when he struck up his signature anthem to Palestinian nationalism, “Raise the Kaffiyeh.”


Street celebrations and fireworks erupted across the West Bank and Gaza after he was named the winner Saturday at a TV studio in Beirut.


On Tuesday, Assaf revisited the theme of unity.


“My message is national unity and ending the split,” he told a news conference at the border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. “We are one people, and we want our freedom.”180361_18846802



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