A wedding singer from Gaza on Saturday became the first Palestinian Authority Arab to win Arab Idol, in a contest which has captivated millions of viewers, Al Jazeera reported.
Mohammed Assaf, 22, beat finalists Egyptian Ahmed Jamal and a Syrian woman, Farah Youssef, on Saturday in the singing competition broadcast by the Saudi-owned MBC Group.
Viewers from across the region voted for their favorites.
Shortly after winning, the young singer saluted “the people of Palestine, who have been suffering under occupation for decades," according to Al Jazeera.
The network also reported that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had earlier spoken to Assaf by phone and instructed PA embassies abroad to urge expatriates to vote for him, calling the singer "the pride of the Palestinian and Arab nation."
After his victory, Abbas reportedly appointed Assaf as a Goodwill Ambassador and gave him a diplomatic passport.
Across Gaza, which is ruled by the Hamas terror group, people gathered around TV screens at home, in coffee shops and in seaside cafes to watch Assaf perform for the last time, according to Al Jazeera.
The Bank of Palestine threw money into a campaign to see him win, promising to match up to 350,000 texted votes - each one costs 40 cents - for Assaf, according to the report.
It placed billboards with his picture at major intersections in Gaza and the PA-assigned areas of Judea and Samaria.
Some cafes in Ramallah offered to text a vote for every cup of coffee that customers order.
The show is broadcast from the Lebanese capital Beirut, and is now in its second season. This year's competition began in March with 27 contestants.
Assaf, who was born to PA Arab parents in Libya and grew up in Gaza's Khan Younis, almost did not get to compete.
According to Al Jazeera, he had to plead with Hamas to let him leave Gaza, then bribe Egyptian border guards to let him enter the country en route to Lebanon.
Hamas at first seemed critical of the Arab Idol fever sweeping Gaza, with a spokesman saying last month that the name and idea of the show are blasphemous.
However, Hamas is known for not going against public opinion, noted Al Jazeera, and, in a sign of a shift, a Hamas lawmaker in Gaza, Yehiyeh Moussa, this week praised Assaf as the "ambassador for Palestinian art."
Since violently taking over Gaza in 2007, Hamas has enforced a stringent interpretation of Islamic law in Gaza. Last year it banned residents of Gaza from participating in another national reality singing show, “New Star”, which follows the same format as popular U.S. shows “American Idol” and “The X-Factor.”
Hamas claimed the program was “indecent,” adding it contradicts the customs and traditions of the Gaza community.
The terror group has banned women and teenagers from smoking hookahs in public, ordered that women's clothing stores are not allowed to have dressing rooms, men cannot have hairdressing salons for women and that mannequins shaped like women must be dressed in modest clothing.
Several months ago, Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers took another step towards the implementation of strict Islamic sharia law in the region by introducing a strict dress code for female students at the Al-Aqsa University.