Gaza's militant Hamas rulers have banned eight teenage students with scholarships to study in the U.S. from leaving the territory, a Palestinian rights group said Wednesday.
The move appeared to be part of an intensified Hamas campaign against independent groups that they view as a challenge to their rule and against activities that believe promote a Western lifestyle.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said the eight students were granted AMIDEAST scholarships, a program that educates talented teenagers from the Middle East and North Africa for a year in the U.S. At the end of the year, students return to their home countries to finish their education. The students were granted scholarships based on their academic achievements.
In a statement, the rights group said Hamas' education minister rejected a travel request by the teenager's parents for "social and cultural reasons." It also accused Hamas of breaching the parents' right to educate their children as they choose.
Hamas would not confirm the order, much as it has in the past with similar orders travel bans on Gaza residents.
But the parents of 15-year-old Aboud Alshatari said their son was traveling to the border Wednesday when Hamas police turned him away, saying the Education Ministry refused to let him leave Gaza. Alshatari was slated to attend school in North Carolina.
The ban comes a day after a network of aid groups in Gaza criticized Hamas for forcing aid workers and employees of civil society groups to register with them before traveling for work outside the Gaza Strip. And last week, Hamas shut down the U.S.-financed International Medical Corps after it refused to submit to a Hamas audit.
The Iranian-backed Hamas overran Gaza from the secular Palestinian Fatah party in bloody street battles in 2007. Since then, Hamas has slowly imposed its radical interpretation of Islam on residents of the Gaza Strip _ a world view that is even more stern than what traditionally religious conservative Gazan's follow.
Other Hamas crackdowns include trying to ban male barbers from cutting women's hair and forbidding women from smoking in public and outlawing scantly clad female mannequins.