June 4, 2008 / 8:42 PM / 9 years ago

Israel eases restrictions on Gaza Fulbright students

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel allowed four of seven Palestinians who were awarded prestigious U.S. fellowships to leave the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to apply for visas to the United States, an Israeli human rights group and the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday.

Israel allowed the four Fulbright students to travel to the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem for visa interviews. They will return to Gaza later in the day and remain there until their visas are finalized, the human rights group, Gisha, said.

Three Fulbright students have yet to receive Israeli approval to travel to the consulate, Gisha said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed Israel allowed the four to apply for U.S. visas in Jerusalem and said the United States was working with Israeli authorities on exit permits for the other three.

The United States said on Monday that it had erred by not approaching the Israeli government earlier to help the seven students from Gaza who had been selected for the prestigious U.S. government scholarship.

Israel tightened its cordon of the Gaza Strip after the Hamas Islamist group took over the coastal Mediterranean territory nearly a year ago. Israel gives few Palestinians, other than some who are gravely ill, permission to leave.

The U.S. State Department last week told the seven their Fulbright grants had been withdrawn, but that decision was subsequently reversed.

Writing by Adam Entous, editing by Stacey Joyce

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