Blair offers support to 'trapped' Gaza student

Donald Macintyre
Sunday 23 October 2011 02:50

The campaign to get Palestinian students out of Gaza to take up university places abroad gathered momentum yesterday after one received a letter of support from Tony Blair, the international Middle East envoy.

Mr Blair told Wissam Abuajwa, who has been denied Israeli permission to leave Gaza, that he had passed his case to the British Government, which had promised to raise it with the Israeli authorities "at the highest level".

The case of Mr Abuajwa 30, who wrote to Mr Blair, was first highlighted by The Independent. He has a place, a full scholarship and a British visa to pursue a Master's degree in environmental sciences at Nottingham University.

Mr Blair told him that he saw improved facilities for Palestinian students "as crucial in laying the foundations for a Palestinian state". The former prime minister added: "I hope this can be resolved."

Questioned about Mr Abuajwa by the Labour MP Richard Burden at a Commons committee hearing last week, Mr Blair said the plight of such students was "tragic" and added: "Both this case and others we will raise with the Israelis and try and get the situation changed."

The Israeli human rights organisation Gisha, which says hundreds of students with university places are similarly trapped in Gaza, is challenging the ban on Mr Abuajwa in a test case before Israel's Supreme Court. The state is due to give its response next week.

Meanwhile, the EU has agreed to hold open prestigious Erasmus Mundus scholarships for 19 other Gazans who were due to study in Europe from March – but only until 1 September.

After pressure on Israel from the US State Department, four out of seven Fulbright scholars denied exit permits have been allowed to attend visa interviews in Jerusalem.

Israel broadly blames its ban on the Hamas regime and attacks on crossings into Gaza, saying it prioritises the exit of "humanitarian" cases. But Gisha's director, Sari Bashi, said yesterday the closure was "trapping 1.5 million people, including hundreds of students.

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