The Malaysian prime minister is visiting the Gaza Strip, in a political boost for the territory’s once internationally isolated Hamas rulers.
During his first-ever visit to the territory Tuesday, Najib Razak was expected to meet with Hamas politicians, tour sites bombed by Israeli forces and visit a school funded by his majority-Muslim nation in Southeast Asia.
"I came here to express my solidarity with the Palestinian people,” Bloomberg news quoted Razak as saying in a joint press conference with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. “This is a humanitarian visit to express our deep concern with what is happening to the Palestinian people in Gaza.”
Razak visited Egypt on an official trip before arriving at the Palestinian territory.
“It is an emotive issue for Malaysians,” Joseph Chinyong Liow, associate dean of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to Bloomberg News. “This visit certainly won’t be a game- changer, but as far as the Muslim vote is concerned — and that tends to be the constituency that is most sympathetic and drawn to the issue of Palestine — it would capture their attention.”
The West has branded Hamas, which seized Gaza in 2007, as a terror organization. The Arab Spring uprisings that brought Islamists to power in parts of the region also enabled Hamas to break out of its isolation.
In October, the leader of resource-rich Qatar became the first head of state to visit Gaza. Hamas has also forged closer ties over the past two years with regional powerhouses Egypt and Turkey.