Malaysia defends decision to host Israeli delegation
A high-level Israeli delegation set to visit a UN conference in Kuala Lumpur has caused outrage in the Muslim-majority country, prompting Malaysia to defend the decision on Thursday.
Anifah Aman, the Malaysian foreign minister said that as host of last week's international forum on urban development, Malaysia had no choice but to allow all UN member states to take part.
Malaysia holds no diplomatic ties with Israel and is a strong supporter of Palestine. Thousands of protesters took to the streets last year after the US president Donald Trump announced his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and outlined plans to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city.
The Israeli delegation was led by David Roet, former Israeli deputy ambassador to the UN. The delegation included other senior foreign ministry officials and a former minister.
Roet tweeted pictures of himself at different places in Kuala Lumpur and next to a Malaysian flag.
"I have great hopes for good relations between our two countries in the future," he posted on Twitter.
"Israel will be very happy that this has happened," he told AFP.
Opposition groups, as well as Islamic ones, have criticised the government for allowing Roet to take part in the event. Rais Hussin, a member of the political party Bersatu described it as a "great disservice to the Palestinian cause".
"The issue of Malaysia tacitly establishing links with Israel through the hosting of this forum does not arise. Our position on Israel remains unchanged. To imply otherwise is an indication of malicious and malignant intent."
In a statement, foreign minister Anifah insisted Malaysia had been compelled to allow Israel to participate, adding that the invitation to the Jewish state was not signed by an Malaysian official.
Previously, Israelis have been stopped from entering the country for international events.
In 2015, two Israeli windsurfers were denied visas for a competition on the holiday island of Langkawi, forcing them to withdraw from the event.