I am a "son of the camp" - Mohammad Assaf's triumphant return to Palestine
Mohammad Assaf declared himself a "son of the camp" on Tuesday as he returned to the Gaza Strip, where thousands of jubilant fans awaited the arrival of the Arab Idol star.
Flag-waving crowds waited for several hours at the Rafah crossing on Egypt's border for 23-year-old Assaf, three days after he was crowned the winner of the popular regional singing contest.
Assaf bent over and kissed the ground as he crossed the border, an AFP correspondent reported, before holding a news conference alongside Hamas officials.
"I thank you for your wonderful welcome and hope the celebrations won't feature gunfire," Assaf said, alluding to the shots in the air that sometimes accompany celebrations in the Middle East.
Assaf said he was the son of Palestine and "son of the (refugee) camp," and told reporters he would continue to sing nationalistic songs and raise the Palestinian flag.
"We want our freedom," he added. "I hope I have united the two parts of our country through my participation and I wish the media would concentrate on the Palestinian people."
Recordings of Assaf's songs blasted out from loudspeakers as crowds thronged his motorcade as it made its way up the Gaza Strip.
Assaf was forced to head to a hotel as he could not reach his home in Khan Younis refugee camp, where thousands of fans flooded the streets holding posters of the Arab Idol and waving banners congratulating the home-grown star.
Immediately after his win on Saturday night, tens of thousands of Palestinians took the streets for spontaneous celebrations in the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon.
Palestine University will award Assaf an honorary BA in media during a graduation ceremony on Wednesday, Ma'an has learned.
Assaf was named Youth Ambassador for UNRWA, the UN's agency for Palestinian refugees and named Palestinian goodwill ambassador by President Mahmoud Abbas.
Assaf left Gaza via the Rafah crossing for an audition in Egypt in October last year, and made it through each stage, eventually staying in Beirut alongside other contestants for the final rounds.
Assaf's victory in the finals, held in the Lebanese capital and screened live on television across the Arab world, marked the first such success for a Palestinian entertainer.
"Mohammed Assaf is the Arab Idol!" declared on Saturday the presenter of the show which is modeled on the British hit show Pop Idol, as confetti rained down on the cheering audience.
The handsome, tuxedo-clad singer immediately dedicated his win to "the Palestinian people, who have been suffering for more than 60 years from (the Israeli) occupation".
He won a professional recording contract and a car, a 2013 Chevrolet Camaro.
(Ma'an News Agency)