Prime Minister Muhammad Najib Abdul Razak of Malaysia visited the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, in his first trip to the Hamas-controlled area.
The visit prompted a bitter protest from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who said it undermined his status and that of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Abbas said he was seeking “clarifications” from the Malaysian government.
Abdul Razak and his wife were welcomed by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh at the Rafah crossing, and he gave a brief press conference upon his arrival.
According the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, Abdul Razak urged the different Palestinian factions to unite, and he praised their endurance of Israeli oppression.
“We may be far from you in distance, but we are one nation and believe in the struggle of the Palestinian people,” Abdul Razak said.
The Malaysian premier met later with Hamas politicians, toured sites bombed by Israeli forces during the Operation Pillar of Defense conflict with rocket-firing terror groups in November, and visited a school funded by his majority-Muslim nation in Southeast Asia.
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 also forged closer ties in the past two years with regional powerhouses Egypt and Turkey.