Israel Grants Arab Idol Winner Residency in West Bank

Mohammed Assaf from Gaza, embraced as a national Palestinian hero since winning the contest in June, will be permitted to move with his sister, brother-in-law and the couple's three children.

Fame has opened a door for a former Gaza wedding singer that remains closed for others in the blockaded territory: Mohammed Assaf, winner of the popular TV talent contest Arab Idol, gets to move to the West Bank.

The West Bank and Gaza lie on either side of Israel. Citing security reasons, Israel has severely restricted movement between the two territories for more than a decade.

And though in the past two years Israel retroactively granted West Bank residency to more than 4,000 Gazans and their offspring who had already been living in the West Bank for years, cases of Gazans being permitted to move to the West Bank are extremely rare.

Assaf, 23, from the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza is one such case. Guy Inbar, an Israeli military spokesman, confirmed on Tuesday that Israel has granted West Bank residency to Assaf, his sister, brother-in-law and the couple's three children. Inbar said Israel responded to a request by the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank-based self-rule government of President Mahmoud Abbas.

When Assaf won the Arab Idol contest in Beirut in June, the charismatic performer became a symbol of Palestinian pride, and Abbas embraced him as a national hero.

In contrast, the Islamic militant Hamas rulers of Gaza gave Assaf a cool reception when he briefly visited Gaza after his win. Hamas views contests such as Arab Idol as frivolous and opposes them on religious grounds.

With the West Bank as a new base, Assaf will be able to travel relatively freely. Gaza has suffered under Israeli and Egyptian border blockades since 2007, when Hamas overran the territory, wresting control of the coastal strip from Abbas' Fatah movement.

The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Palestinian singer Assaf performing after being announced the winner.Credit: Reuters

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