Gaza, Oct 10: Palestinian student Khaled al-Mudallal arrived home to Gaza on a mission: marry his fiancee Duaa then spirit her back to Britain where he would complete his university degree.
Instead, they both ended up stuck in the impoverished Hamas-run coastal enclave because of an Israeli blockade that stops anyone without a permit from leaving.
The 22-year-old student returned to Gaza half way through his 3-year business management course at Bradford University in northern England to get married and escort his new wife home.
But a week after he arrived, fighting between Islamist group Hamas and rival faction Fatah erupted. Hamas seized control of the coastal territory and Israel shut the one border crossing that remained open for ordinary people.
''Being held in Gaza affects my whole life,'' Mudallal told Reuters. ''I need to return to the life I have built.'' Israel has allowed a few Palestinian students to leave Gaza in time for the start of a new academic year at universities in Europe and the Middle East.
But Palestinian officials say permits are issued sporadically and after long delays, meaning some 6,000 Gazans --including hundreds of students -- have been forced to put their studies on hold.
''Gaza trap? I would say Gaza grave,'' said 18-year-old Talal Mohammad, a Gaza student who had been hoping to study in Cairo.
''We built hopes like mountains but they have all collapsed.'' NUMBER 4,834 Mudallal took his case to Israeli human rights group Gisha, which says it represents hundreds of Palestinians who want to leave Gaza.
Gisha asked the Israeli High Court of Justice to fast-track Mudallal's case but was turned down.
Sari Bashi, director of Gisha, said Mudallal was number 4,834 on a waiting list of more than 6,000.
''With this rate, if you calculate it it will take Khaled something like 20 months to leave,'' Bashi said.
Israel pulled settlers and the army out of Gaza in 2005 but Palestinians say the area's 1.5 million people still live under effective occupation because the Jewish state controls its borders, waters and air space.
After Hamas seized control of Gaza, Israel closed the borders to everything and everyone except humanitarian supplies and people with special permits to travel.
Palestinians have denounced the blockade as collective punishment while Israel, which has branded Gaza an ''enemy entity'', says the steps are necessary for security, noting militants continue to pound its land with rockets.
Israeli's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said he hoped the ''problems'' with issuing permits would be solved speedily so students like Mudallal could resume their studies.
Simmering tensions between Hamas and Fatah and an economic meltdown that has pushed unemployment and poverty levels to some 80 percent have prompted Gazans with the requisite paperwork to flee. Others dream of escape.
Seeking to put Mudallal's misfortune to good use, the Gaza Islamist University asked him to teach business and management to local students while he waits for a permit.
''I am passing my experience onto others,'' he said.