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Gazan Arab Idol hero on triumphal West Bank tour

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The Gazan winner of pan-Arab talent competition 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 Palestinian president Yasser Arafat with a heavy security detail present, along with ambulances as a precaution, an AFP journalist reported.

Assaf was greeted with cheers and applause 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 other West Bank towns Bethlehem, Hebron and Nablus.

On his return to Gaza, which is governed by Islamist movement Hamas, on June 25, Assaf called for an end to the "division" with the West Bank, and urged "unity" between Palestinians.

Israeli legal rights group Gisha, which lobbies for freedom of movement for Palestinians, 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 Misrata, Libya, 23-year-old Assaf grew up in the teeming Khan Yunis refugee camp in southern Gaza before winning the 2013 edition of Arab Idol in Beirut.

His victory sparked scenes of jubilation across the Palestinian territories.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130701/gazan-arab-idol-hero-triumphal-west-bank-tour