Israel allowed four of seven Palestinians who were awarded prestigious US fellowships to leave the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to apply for visas to the United States, an Israeli human rights group said on Wednesday.
Israel allowed the four Fulbright students to travel to the US 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.
A US Consulate spokeswoman was not immediately available to comment.
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 US government scholarship.
Israel tightened its cordon of the Gaza Strip after the Hamas Islamist group took over the the coastal Mediterranean territory nearly a year ago. Israel gives few Palestinians, other than some who are gravely ill, permission to leave.
The US State Department last week told the seven their Fulbright grants had been withdrawn, but that decision was subsequently reversed.
The students learned last week that their scholarships for the upcoming academic year would be deferred because they couldn't get out of Gaza, which Israel has blockaded since Hamas seized power a year ago.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the US reversal came on orders from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who first heard about the scholarship snafu on Friday. ''She wasn't pleased,'' McCormack said.
He appeared to blame lower-level US diplomats or support staff for the decision to yank the scholarships without discussing the implications with enough higher-ups.
''On our side there was some decision-making that in retrospect we wouldn't have taken,'' he said. ''The secretary is just pleased that it's been fixed, or will be fixed.''
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report