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An outstanding Palestinian student has lost her best chance of realising a burning ambition to study medicine in Britain because she was trapped in Gaza until it was just a day too late to take a crucial written exam in Jordan.
Last week Diana Alsadi, 18, was supposed to take the Cambridge biomedical exam that is required by those who want to study at the top four UK medical schools.
The student, who had grades of over 96 per cent in the past two years at the Catholic Holy Family School in Gaza City, had paid the £31 fee, and acquired a British visa. But she failed to secure an Israeli permit to leave Gaza through the northern Erez crossing, despite weeks of persistently trying. Then she thought she had a lucky break when the Rafah crossing into Egypt suddenly opened last week in time for her to make it to Cairo by taxi for a 10pm flight to Jordan on the evening before the test at the British Council’s office in the Jordanian capital.
But the bus she was ushered on to at the border – 29th in a queue of 30 – had still not reached Egypt when the crossing shut for the day. Ms Alsadi and her mother, Dina, stayed overnight on the bus before it finally moved at around noon – just as the exam was starting in Jordan.
Still determined, the pair booked another flight from Cairo, arrived at Amman at 1am, and went to the British Council at opening time Â– to be told that the timing of the globally synchronised two-hour written test could not be varied.
On one level Ms Alsadi’s story is mundane compared with hundreds of others to emerge from Gaza. But for her, it meant a heartbreak after years of study. “In other countries even animals are treated better than this,” said Ms Alsadi, from Annan, of her agonising wait at the Rafah border. “I felt that I am not a human being. When I realised the exam was taking place while were still on the way I became very nervous.”
She said that she had contacted the three medical schools she applied to, Cambridge, University College London and Imperial College, to ask if they can find an alternative solution.
The Israeli human rights organisation Gisha said that her experience was a “stark” example of the impact of the Gaza closures.
The British Council said the strict timing was so that “candidates cannot convey the contents of the examination across time zones” and said it had offered to refund Ms Alsadi’s fee. It added: “We regret we were not able to offer a full examination service to Diana, but we believe our staff did everything within their control to assist her in difficult circumstances.”
Meanwhile the five-month-old Gaza ceasefire seemed to be near breaking point yesterday after Israeli soldiers shot dead four Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, triggering warnings of retaliation. This followed a week of closure of the Gaza crossings since Israel shot dead six Hamas gunmen in what they said was an anti-kidnap operation. Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN refugee agency Unrwa, said: “This has become a blockade against the UN itself.”