Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad welcomed the chief of the Palestinian militant group Hamas to Putrajaya on Wednesday during his first official trip to Malaysia since becoming the organization’s top leader in May 2017, officials said.
While paying a courtesy call at the prime minister’s office, Ismail Haniyeh praised Mahathir, who is known for being outspoken in criticizing Israel, for supporting the Palestinian people, according to state media and information on the Malaysian leader’s official Twitter account.
Both the United States and Israel have branded Haniyeh as a terrorist and Hamas as a terror organization. Haniyeh was visiting Malaysia as part of his first trip outside of the Gaza Strip or Egypt as chief of the political wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), a tour that has also taken him to Iran, Oman, Turkey and Qatar.
“According to the Hamas leader, Malaysia has a very special position in the Islamic world,” Malaysia’s state-run Bernama news service quoted Mahathir as saying about his conversation with Haniyeh.
Mahathir said Haniyeh expressed gratitude for the prime minister’s efforts “to bring fresh ideas to the Islamic world,” and the Hamas leader cited the Kuala Lumpur Summit organized by the Malaysian government as an example.
Last month, Malaysia hosted the leaders of Iran, Turkey and Qatar – all rivals of Saudi Arabia –during a three-day conference. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) criticized it as an event that could weaken the 57-nation intergovernmental body based in the Saudi kingdom.
In 2018, after Haniyeh became the Hamas chief, the United States government added his name to its list of specially designated global terrorists, saying he had “committed, or poses a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United States.”
The U.S. State Department had previously listed Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization, accusing units associated with it up of conducting suicide bombings against Israeli civilian and military targets.
In April 2018, a Palestinian engineer named Fadi Mohamad Al Batsh, who was allegedly linked to Hamas, was gunned down in Kuala Lumpur. According to reports in the Israeli press, he was killed by the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence service.
The 94-year-old Mahathir, who has been accused in the Israeli and Western media of expressing anti-Semitic views, has not shied away from criticizing the United States over its longtime alliance with Israel, even after returning to office as prime minister of Muslim-majority Malaysia in 2018.
In a September 2016 interview with BenarNews, Mahathir pointed to Western polices in the Middle East, including ongoing Western support for Israel, as exacerbating the worldwide problem of terrorism.
The militant group that calls itself the Islamic State grew out if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.
“But the world will not see it because the press is totally controlled by the Western countries,” Mahathir said in the interview. “They will not blame themselves. … The real cause is that they have mishandled the Middle East over the last 60 years.”