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Middle East

Gaza singer Mohammed Assaf wins Arab Idol TV talent contest


Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are relishing some good news for a change: Mohammed Assaf, a 23-year-old singer from Gaza, has become a hero after winning the Arab Idol TV talent contest.

Thousands turned out onto the streets to celebrate as Mr Assaf prevailed over contestants from across the Middle East during the show, watched by millions in the region. His win is seen as a triumph for the Palestinian cause because, in addition to his vocals, he also projected nationalist consciousness while competing. His signature songs stressed Palestinian history and the struggles of his people against Israeli occupation.

“People love him because he chooses such wonderful songs related to the Palestinian revolution,” said Riyad Saleh, a local English teacher. The joy in this camp of 13,000 refugees, which was established after Israel’s formation in 1948, was even greater than when the UN General Assembly recognised Palestinian statehood earlier this year, Mr Saleh said.

Mr Assaf hails from a refugee family in the southern Gaza Strip. He made a name for himself performing at weddings there, but his big break came three months ago when he made his way to Cairo for the Arab Idol audition, reportedly arriving late and having to climb over a hotel wall to get his chance.

After his victory, Mr Assaf said: “Spreading the words of young people and watching them achieve their dreams – this is much better than the sounds of gunfire.”

Mr Assaf performed his final song before judges in Beirut on Friday. “Raise Your Keffiyeh” refers to the head scarf that is also a nationalist symbol. The song, which dates back to the 1990s honours prisoners in Israeli jails and those killed in the conflict with Israel.

Firas Iziyah, a barber, said Mr Assaf’s triumph meant so much to Palestinians because it was a bright moment within a bleak situation.

“It shows that a Palestinian can succeed in this world,” he said. “I think this shows we love peace and is a message of peace to the world.”

Palestinian PM resigns after two weeks

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has accepted the resignation of his Prime Minister, Rami Hamdullah, just two weeks after he took up the post.

The departure of Mr Hamdullah, who will remain on as caretaker for a matter of weeks, further weakens the Palestinian Authority during a sensitive period, as US Secretary of State John Kerry seeks to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The move came after Mr Abbas failed to dissuade Mr Hamdullah, an academic without previous high-profile political experience, from stepping down. Mr Hamdullah’s decision is believed to have stemmed from concern that the two Deputy Prime Ministers, who are close to the President, would impinge on his role.