Middle East

Gaza singer Mohammed Assaf wins Arab Idol contest

Celebrations have erupted across the Palestinian territories at news that a wedding singer from the Gaza Strip has won the Arab Idol talent TV show.

Mohammed Assaf, 23, was a virtual unknown until a few weeks ago but has now become a local hero.

The contest, held in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, was watched by millions across the region.

Fireworks were being set off in Gaza City and East Jerusalem as revellers thronged the streets.

Assaf was declared the winner on Saturday evening, a day after he competed in a final against two other singers - Ahmed Jamal from Egypt and Farah Youssef from Syria.

The talent contest has been broadcast on the Beirut-based MBC TV channel since March.

His last solo song, performed on Friday, had a political edge, asking for the Palestinian traditional scarf to be raised and calling for reconciliation, the BBC's Yolande Knell reports from Gaza City.

Hamas quiet

Image caption The talent show has been broadcast on MBC Television since March

While Assaf was born in Libya to Palestinian parents, it is the first time a singer living in Gaza has won the prestigious event.

"Mohammed Assaf didn't free Palestine," wrote one blogger on Twitter. "But he brought joy to people who didn't smile for the past 66 years of occupation."

Traffic in Gaza City was gridlocked late into the night and middle-aged men danced in the streets in celebration.

Palestinian public figures, including President Mahmoud Abbas, had called on all Palestinians to show their support for the singer.

He also had the backing of big businesses, which produced posters for him and sponsored billboards.

Although the show and its music are not liked by Hamas, which rules Gaza, it has kept relatively quiet about it, our correspondent says.

Assaf himself said he had had to plead with Hamas officials to let him leave Gaza - and then bribe Egyptian officials to let him into Egypt, the Associated Press news agency reported. As a result he arrived late for the auditions in Cairo.

He was apparently allowed to compete only because another Palestinian contender handed him his audition slot on hearing his voice.

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