Gaza’s Arab Idol winner in European debut

"Arab Idol" Mohammed Assaf kisses Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as he hands him a diplomatic Palestinian Authority passport during their meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 1, 2013. (Reuters)

The Gazan winner of the Arab Idol talent competition, a rare symbol of Palestinian unity, is to give his first concert outside the Arab world in The Hague on Sunday.

Mohammad Assaf, 24, became a national hero when he won the pan-Arab contest in June after transfixing millions of television viewers with his soaring renditions of Arab love ballads and patriotic Palestinian songs.

Organizers said they expected the 800 tickets for the young heartthrob’s concert in The Hague’s town hall on Sunday night, his first outside the Middle East and North Africa, to be sold out.

Assaf arrived in the Netherlands after giving a concert in Dubai and had dinner with Arab ambassadors on Saturday evening, a spokesman for the Palestinian delegation in the Netherlands, Roel Raterink, told AFP.

Palestinians from Germany and Belgium are also expected to travel to the Netherlands for the concert, organizers said, which will also be attended by most Arab ambassadors.

Israel in August took the exceptional step of allowing Assaf to move from the Gaza Strip to the Israeli occupied West Bank as a “humanitarian gesture”.

Israel has maintained a land, sea and air blockade on Gaza since 2006, which was tightened further when the Islamist movement Hamas seized control there the following year.

No Israeli diplomats will be attending. Israeli President Shimon Peres is on a visit to Amsterdam at the same time, the Israeli embassy said.

One-time wedding singer Assaf will also meet members of the Netherlands’ Palestinian community, before heading to Italy for another European concert, Raterink said.

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 in June.

His victory sparked scenes of jubilation across the Palestinian territories.

The week after he won, Assaf performed in front of some 40,000 fans in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The contest in Beirut transfixed the viewing public with Assaf’s story which saw him sneaking out of Gaza, nearly missing his initial audition in Cairo, and then only making it through after a fellow Gazan pulled out.

Palestinians remain divided between the Islamist Hamas movement which rules the Gaza Strip and its Fatah rival which dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

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

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:41 - GMT 06:41
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