x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf given hero's welcome in Gaza

Thousands of well-wishers waving Palestinian flags mobbed motorcade of star – now an honourary ambassador for Fatah and the UNRWA – as he returned home to Gaza.

Palestinian ‘Arab Idol’ Mohammed Assaf (centre) is welcomed by a policeman loyal to Hamas upon his arrival in Gaza .
Palestinian ‘Arab Idol’ Mohammed Assaf (centre) is welcomed by a policeman loyal to Hamas upon his arrival in Gaza .

RAMALLAH // Scenes of jubilation and chaos greeted Mohammed Assaf, the winner of the Arab Idol singing contest, as he returned home yesterday to Gaza.

Thousands of well-wishers waving Palestinian flags and setting off fireworks mobbed the Palestinian star's motorcade as he entered Gaza from the Rafah crossing, which connects the territory with Egypt.

Mohammed, 22, bent over and kissed the ground as he crossed the border, AFP reported, before holding a news conference alongside officials from Gaza's ruling Hamas movement.

"I thank you for your wonderful welcome and hope the celebrations won't feature gunfire," Mohammed said. "I hope with all my heart that the division can end, and my message to our Palestinian people is: unity, unity.".

Mohammed, was supposed to meet his family at their house in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, but avoided the area because he feared for his safety, said his father, Jaber Assaf.

"He was concerned about the crowds, so he didn't come in," Mr Assaf said, although he did not say where Mohammed had gone.

Mohammed electrified Palestinians with his victory in the competition on Saturday, beating thousands of contestants from across the region in the months-long competition. Huge crowds of overjoyed Palestinians celebrated his victory in Gaza and the West Bank after he was crowned the winner.

His powerful vocals to love and nationalism earned him applause from the competition's celebrity judges and offered rare hope to Palestinians, who struggle under Israeli occupation and a divided political leadership.

But his new level of fame yesterday attracted moments of chaos. A roof partially collapsed under a Palestine TV channel crew that was filming the thousands of people thronging Mohammed's home in Khan Younis.

An American photographer at the scene said groups of men began waving sticks to push mobs of people away from the Assaf home. In Khan Younis, a French journalist was injured when a firework exploded in her face. Dozens of street vendors, moreover, capitalised on the situation, selling liver sandwiches and fruit.

Palestinian notables - businessmen, cultural icons and politicians - have also rallied around Mohammed.

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah chairman, appointed Mohammed to the position of honorary ambassador.

Hamas had distanced itself from Mohammend until his victory on Sunday, partly because they consider his singing style indecent. But the Palestinian news agency, Maan, reported on Monday that the Hamas-run youth and sports ministry in Gaza planned to organise a reception for him.

Mohammed is expected to perform a number of shows in the West Bank before heading to Dubai, where he plans to base his recording career.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, named Assaf a goodwill ambassador, making him the first Palestinian to receive the title.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

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