The militant group Hamas has allegedly prevented students from leaving Gaza to study in the United States on scholarship, reports the Associated Press.
The rights group The Palestinian Center for Human Rights told AP that the eight students had been awarded AMIDEAST scholarships, which enable students from the Middle East and North Africa to study in the United States for one year and then return home to continue their program. AMIDEAST is an American independent non-profit group.
The group said Hamas's education minister rejected a travel request from the students' parents.
Khaled Elgindy, visiting scholar at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, told MSNBC that if confirmed, the move represents another step by Hamas towards authoritarianism.
“I think it is significant," Elgindy said. "It's part of a pattern that Hamas is engaging in that has really intensified in the last several months, where they have become increasingly insecure."
The ban comes after similar moves by Hamas to prevent people from engaging in activities that might promote a Western lifestyle or encourage international opinions and perspectives.
Hamas allegedly forced aid workers and civil society workers to register with them before working outside the Gaza Strip and recently shut down International Medical Corps after it refused to submit an audit to Hamas, AP reports. Organizations with U.S. funding cannot have contact with Hamas because it is deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
A spokesperson from the U.S. State Department told MSNBC they were looking into the move by Hamas.
“It is definitely on our radar,” Nicole Thompson said.