Arab Idol hero on West Bank tour

The Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf performs in Ramallah.

The Palestinian winner of Arab Idol Mohammed Assaf performs in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Abbas Momani / AFP
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The Gazan winner of Arab Idol, Mohammed Assaf, performed in front of some 40,000 fans in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Monday.

Crowds thronged a square near the tomb of the Palestinian president Yasser Arafat with a heavy security detail present, along with ambulances.

Assaf was greeted with cheers as he came on stage, surrounded by policemen holding back hundreds of fans who wanted a photograph with the singer.

Before beginning his performance, Assaf spoke to the crowds. “I am very pleased to be here with you and with the help of God, I have done you proud,” he said before launching into Raise the Keffiyeh, a Palestinian nationalist song which refers to the traditional chequered headscarf made famous by Arafat.

Assaf arrived in the West Bank, which is governed by president Mahmud Abbas’s Palestinian authority, on Monday afternoon, entering from Jordan over the Allenby Bridge. In Ramallah, Assaf laid a wreath on Arafat’s tomb before meeting Abbas.

The singer is due to visit the other West Bank towns Bethlehem, Hebron and Nablus.

On his return to Gaza on June 25, Assaf called for an end to the “division” with the West Bank, and urged “unity” between Palestinians.

The Israeli legal rights group Gisha stressed that the singer’s arrival was “exceptional not just because Palestinians consider him a national hero, but also because it is an exception to Israel’s consistent policy of blocking access between Gaza and the West Bank”.

“If Assaf had been anything less than a superstar, he would have had little chance of setting foot in the West Bank because of the Israeli policy of restricting the voyage to ‘exceptional humanitarian circumstances’,” Gisha said in a statement.

Born to Palestinian parents in Misurata, Libya, Assaf, 23, grew up in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in southern Gaza before winning the 2013 edition of Arab Idol in Beirut.

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