Gaza welcomes Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf

Screaming fans greet winner Mohammed Assaf as he returns home

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Thousands of Palestinians have given a hero's welcome to singer Mohammed Assaf on his return to the Gaza Strip after winning the Arab Idol talent show.

Huge crowds gathered on the route between the Rafah crossing with Egypt and Mr Assaf's home in the Khan Younis refugee camp.

His victory was met with celebrations across the Palestinian territories.

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

Tens of thousands of Palestinians had been waiting since the early morning to greet Mr Assaf, despite the scorching heat, the BBC's Rushdi Abu Alouf reports from Gaza.

It normally takes only 15 minutes to get from the Rafah crossing to Mr Assaf's home, but it took his convoy two hours, such were the numbers of the crowds that turned out, our correspondent adds.

"Thanks everyone, without you I would have never won," Mr Assaf told a news conference after his arrival, Reuters reports.

Mr Assaf, 23, was a wedding singer and a virtual unknown until a few weeks ago but has now become a hero to Palestinians.

Despite a perception that the Arab Idol show and its music were not appreciated by the Islamist Hamas movement which rules Gaza, Hamas officials were among those who greeted Mr Assaf.

Outpouring of emotion

Yolande Knell reports on the win

His victory was announced on Saturday evening, a day after he competed in a final against two other singers - Ahmed Jamal from Egypt and Farah Youssef from Syria.

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

Gaza had not seen such an outpouring of emotion since the end of last year's conflict with Israel, correspondents say.

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

Mr Assaf's last solo song, performed on Friday, had a political edge, asking for the Palestinian traditional scarf to be raised and calling for reconciliation.

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

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

He is expected to get Israeli permission to travel to the West Bank so that he can perform at concerts there as well as in Gaza in the near future.

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