Anti-Assad Syrian star performs in West Bank

AP News
Posted: Aug 11, 2013 2:34 PM
Anti-Assad Syrian star performs in West Bank

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — A West Bank visit by Syrian singer Asala Nasri, a prominent supporter of her country's uprising, marked a rare appearance by a Syrian citizen in the Palestinian territories

Israel and Syria are longtime enemies who are still officially in a state of war with each other. Travel between the two countries is all but impossible, though some members of Israel's Druze minority are allowed to cross into Syria to study or visit family.

Nasri, who holds a Bahraini passport along with her Syrian one, performed in the West Bank on Saturday as part of a festival promoting tourism in the biblical city of Bethlehem. It was her first trip to the Palestinian territories, and Nasri was enthusiastic about the experience at a Sunday press conference.

"Visiting Palestine has been always a dream that finally has come true," she said.

Nasri's concert drew thousands of Palestinians and Arab Israelis, who were rewarded with traditional nationalist Palestinian and Syrian songs. The singer grew emotional as she sang the wistful lyrics to a Syrian tune: "God bring back the old days."

The crowd seemed pleased to have the Syrian star in the West Bank. "We used to go to Jordan to see Arab singers like Asala, but now we can see them here. It's great," attendee Bisharah Hayek said.

Nasri is an outspoken supporter of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"From the beginning, I stood alongside the Syrian revolution, alongside the educated Syrians, nationalist, civilized and moderate youths and their goal of having a civil and democratic state," Nasri said on Sunday.

A group of Assad supporters staged a protest in Bethlehem against Nasri's visit, but police kept them away from the concert. The concert also drew criticism on social media websites.

Nasri received extensive honors from the Palestinian Authority. President Mahmoud Abbas greeted her in Ramallah on Friday afternoon, and presidential guards have accompanied her on her tour. Nasri also laid a wreath at the grave of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

The singer also toured Hebron and Israel's separation barrier with the West Bank during her trip. She is expected to visit Jerusalem on Monday before departing.