Arab Idol winner named UNRWA, goodwill ambassador

JERUSALEM (AP) — The winner of the Arab Idol reality show can’t stop adding titles.

After winning the popular contest, singer Mohammed Assaf was named a special ambassador Sunday by the U.N.’s Palestinian refugee agency and the Palestinian president.

On Saturday night, Assaf became the first Palestinian to win the Arab world’s version of American Idol, setting off wild celebrations across the Palestinian territories.

After the victory, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared the singer an honorary ambassador. “I congratulate the talented singer Mohammed Assaf … who conveyed the message of the Palestinian people to the Arab nation through his art,” Abbas said in a statement distributed by the official Wafa news agency.

He was also named a named a youth ambassador by the U.N.’s Relief and Works Agency, which serves Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. The agency runs the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza, where Assaf has lived since the age of 4.

“All Palestinians share in his success,” said the agency’s commissioner, Filippo Grandi.

Assaf said he was “truly honored” by the appointment.

Assaf has emerged as a rare unifying force among Palestinians, who are divided between rival governments in the West Bank, where Abbas rules, and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The Palestinians hopes to establish an independent state in both territories, along with east Jerusalem.

Crowds gathered in the West Bank and Gaza late Saturday to watch the final episode of Arab Idol on big screens. After Assaf’s victory was announced, fireworks lit up the sky over the West Bank and Gaza.

Many fans said the talented performer allowed Palestinians to forget about their political and geographic split. The Hamas militant group overran Gaza from Abbas’ forces in 2007. Repeated attempts at reconciliation have failed.

Despite his popularity among Palestinians, Assaf’s appearance on Arab Idol was criticized at first by Hamas. But with public opinion and Abbas’ Fatah faction embracing Assaf, Hamas appeared to soften its stance on the competition.

Yehiyeh Moussa, a Hamas lawmaker in Gaza, this week praised Assaf as the “ambassador for Palestinian art.”

Some hardline religious leaders have continued to criticize Arab Idol, calling the show blasphemous and immoral.

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