Malaysia said Wednesday that it will not host any events in the future involving Israel in solidarity with Palestinians.
The decision came as Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah that the government will not budge over a ban on Israeli athletes in a para swimming competition set for July.
Malaysia, a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause, does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. The government has said Israeli swimmers cannot join the competition in eastern Sarawak state in July, which serves as a qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
Saifuddin said the cabinet affirmed last week that no Israeli delegates can enter Malaysia for sporting or other events in solidarity with the Palestinians.
"The cabinet has also decided that Malaysia will not host any more events involving Israel or its representatives. This is to me, a decision to reflect the government's firm stance over the Israeli issue," Saifuddin said after meeting a coalition of Muslim groups, reported The Associated Press.
The groups submitted a memorandum urging the government to stick to the ban and not to repeat past instances of allowing Israel delegates into the country.
Saifuddin said the Palestinian cause was not just a religious issue but also one of human rights.
"It's about fighting on behalf of the oppressed," he said.
Israel's Paralympic Committee said later Wednesday that together with the International Paralympic Committee, it hopes "to find the right solution before July."
"We believe that any additional statements at this stage may only be harmful," Leah Schneider, an official representing the committee, said in an email reply to the AP.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said the International Paralympic Committee can withdraw Malaysia's right to host the July 29-August 4 championship involving athletes from some 70 countries if they wish to do so.
The committee has said it was disappointed with Mahathir's comments but hopes to find a solution to the issue.
This is not the first time Malaysia has stopped Israeli athletes from competing in a sporting event. In 2015, two Israeli windsurfers had to withdraw from a competition on the resort island of Langkawi after they were refused visas to enter. The following year, Malaysia decided not to host a 2017 conference of the world football governing body FIFA because an Israeli delegation was scheduled to participate.
But earlier this year, the government allowed a high-level Israeli delegation to attend a UN conference in Kuala Lumpur.
Israeli athletes have been banned in the past by countries that do not formally recognize Israel.
They have also competed without national symbols, typically under the flag of the sports federation running the event.
Thousands in Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia took to the streets last December to protest Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Last month, Malaysia’s PM criticized Australia’s decision to follow the United States in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying countries had “no rights” to do so.
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