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4 Fulbright scholars allowed to leave Gaza

June 05, 2008|From the Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Israel allowed four Palestinian Fulbright scholars to travel to Jerusalem to apply for U.S. student visas but delayed permission for three others to leave the Gaza Strip, one of the students and a human rights group said Wednesday.

The prestigious scholarships had been briefly deferred when the students could not get out of Gaza, but were reinstated after the U.S. State Department interceded.

U.S. diplomats had told the students that the deferments were necessary because Israel would not grant an exception to its near-total travel ban on Palestinians living in the sealed-off Gaza Strip. Israel said its security considerations were the overriding concern.

Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that escorted the four students after they entered Israel, said the delay for the three other students probably meant security checks were taking longer than anticipated.

Gisha Executive Director Sari Bashi welcomed the approval for the four students but said the rest should be allowed out.

"We hope that Israel will listen to the clear message of Secretary of State [Condoleezza] Rice's comments regarding the importance of the right to access education and let all Gaza students leave and study abroad," Bashi said.

One of the four students, Abdul Rachman Abdullah, said a U.S. Consulate car picked them up on the Israeli side of the border and took them to Jerusalem to apply for the visas.

"If they grant us the visas, then we will be able to leave Gaza in August," said Abdullah, 30, who intends to pursue a master of business administration degree.

Consulate officials declined to comment.

Israeli officials say U.S. diplomats did not ask for exemptions from the travel ban for the Fulbright students, but U.S. officials say Israel should have recognized immediately that they were a special case.

Also Wednesday, the Israeli army said it had closed Gaza's only fuel terminal after an errant rocket fired by militants wounded a Palestinian worker there. The army said it ceased transferring industrial fuel, cooking gas and diesel to the territory.

Government spokesman David Baker said the attack showed militant groups' "total disregard for the well-being of the Palestinian people."

Israel has closed the fuel terminal before during increases in rocket attacks.

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