Malaysia renews backing for Hamas as US sanctions threat looms

KUALA LUMPUR - OCTOBER 22: People gather during a Freedom for Palestine rally at Merdeka Square on October 22, 2023, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. On October 7, the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched the largest surprise attack from Gaza in a generation, sending thousands of missiles and an unknown number of fighters by land, who shot and kidnapped Israelis in communities near the Gaza border. The attack prompted retaliatory strikes on Gaza and a declaration of war by the Israeli prime minister. (Photo by Annice Lyn/Getty Images)

By Anisah Shukry and Kok Leong Chan

(Bloomberg) — Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim reiterated the right of what he called Palestine to defend itself, and said the Southeast Asian nation will continue its relationship with Hamas irrespective of US pressure.

US efforts to restrict external parties from supporting Hamas are unilateral and Malaysia will not recognise it, Anwar told Parliament on Tuesday. “Whatever happened is the legitimate right and struggle of the Palestinian people,” he said.

Anwar was responding to a question from an opposition lawmaker, who had sought the government’s stance on the US House of Representative’s Hamas International Financing Prevention Act. The bill was approved on Nov. 1 and imposes sanctions on foreign persons, agencies and governments that assist Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or their affiliates. Hamas is designated a terrorist group by the US and the European Union.

The US is Malaysia’s third-largest trade partner. Last year, their bilateral commerce totalled about US$77 billion, with Malaysia enjoying a trade surplus of US$31.3 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Any strain in relations could possibly affect trade terms.

“I will not accept any threats, including this,” said Anwar. “This action is unilateral and not valid, because we as members of the United Nations only recognise decisions made by the UN Security Council.”

Malaysia will back efforts by any country – as well as representatives of the Palestinian people – to bring a case against Israel to the International Criminal Court, Anwar added.

Israel’s military said it exchanged fire with Hamas and Hezbollah, after Israeli forces advanced to encircle Gaza City. Gaza health officials said the death toll there has passed 10,000. The territory is run by Hamas.

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