Mohammed Assaf, a 23-year-old singer with a "golden voice," managed to capture the hearts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with his victory on the popular "Arab Idol" television program, a show which has been helping Palestinians forget their difficult daily lives temporarily.

Thousands of people took to the streets in both territories until the wee hours Sunday to celebrate the first victory of a Palestinian in an international competition of this sort and pay tribute to someone who, starting now, they hope will carry the Palestinian cause throughout the world "with his golden voice," in the words of a diplomat quoted by the Palestinian Ma'an news agency.

"This is a gift to the Palestinian people, to the martyrs who died in the struggle (against Israel), to the imprisoned and the wounded," Assaf said after his victory, highlighting the Palestinian cause before millions of viewers all over the Middle East.

Broadcast in recent months by the Saudi MBC television network, the young man from the Gaza Strip for weeks has captivated the Palestinian public and its main leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas and former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, both of whom encouraged him in private telephone calls.

Abbas even went so far as to order the Foreign Ministry to mobilize Palestinian communities throughout the region to vote for Assaf in the contest.

And the dream of an entire people became a reality Saturday night when Assaf beat out a female Syrian singer and a male Egyptian in the show's finale.

Amid fireworks, in crammed coffee shops sharing the moment and with caravans of automobiles on the streets honking their horns and displaying large photos of their idol, the Palestinians turned out for an unusually joyful display of pride in both the West Bank and Gaza. EFE