WASHINGTON – The United States on Friday urged Israel to provide visas for eight Gazan recipients of the prestigious Fulbright scholarships.
State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters that the U.S. is working to "revisit the issue" with Israel, after previously postponing the scholarships because Israel would not grant visas so the students could leave Gaza.
"This is not a political program," Casey said of the scholarships. "We would certainly hope that this kind of very important and very, truly academic program would be something that the Israeli government would be able to help us facilitate."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking to reporters during a trip to Iceland, said earlier Friday that the State Department's decision to pull the scholarships "was a surprise to me, and I am definitely going to look into it."
"If you cannot engage young people and give complete horizons to their expectations and their dreams, I don't know that there would be any future for Palestine," she said. "We will take a look. I am huge supporter of Fulbrights. I am a big supporter of Fulbrights for people in places that have been isolated."
The teeming coastal territory of Gaza and its 1.5 million inhabitants have been controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas for nearly a year. Israel has kept its border crossings closed to everything but humanitarian aid in an attempt to weaken the group and end frequent rocket barrages aimed at Israeli towns.