Malaysia’s prime minister visited Gaza on Tuesday, part of a diplomatic push by Hamas that is irritating Fatah, even more – apparently – than Israel.

Premier Najib Razak, along with a group of Malaysian ministers, crossed into Gaza via its land border with Egypt, the Rafah border crossing, for what he described as a humanitarian visit.

“We believe in the struggle of the Palestinian people. They have been suppressed and oppressed for so long,” Razak told reporters as he was greeted by officials from Gaza’s Hamas government.

Razak arrived at the head of a highlevel delegation for a one-day visit during which he held talks with Hamas leaders. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh received him upon arrival.

He was the second world leader in recent months to accept an invitation from Hamas and visit Gaza. Qatar’s emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al- Thani, made a brief visit to Gaza in October and promised $400 million in aid for infrastructure. He too entered via Egypt, whose new Muslim Brotherhood leaders have historic ties with Hamas.

In a recent report by the US NGO Freedom House, Qatar was classified as a “Not Free” country, while Malaysia was called “Partly Free.” The high-level visits under the nose of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement in the West Bank underscore bitter divisions between the rival Palestinian movements despite efforts by Egypt to forge reconciliation.

Najib’s visit drew a stern rebuke from Abbas, who has not set foot in Gaza since Hamas overthrew his forces there in 2007.

“The Palestinian presidency rejects and denounces the visit... and believes it undermines the representation of the Palestinian people,” his office said in a statement. “It enhances division and does not serve Palestinian interests.”

It also said that the visit harmed the status of the PA as the legitimate leadership of the Palestinians.

The PA accused the Malaysian government of misleading Abbas concerning the visit.

It said that Razak had phoned Abbas and informed him of his country’s decision to send humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Razak also asked to meet with a PA delegation in Cairo, the PA said, adding that it was caught by surprise by the visit to the Gaza Strip.

The PA leadership accused Malaysia of being part of a “conspiracy to divide the Palestinian homeland” and demanded clarifications from the Malaysian government.

An Israeli government official called the Malaysian move an “aberration,” since the overwhelming majority of the international community, including most of the “significant countries” continue to refuse to engage with Hamas until it accepts three conditions: forswears terrorism, recognizes Israel and accepts previous Israeli- Palestinian agreements.

The official said Malaysia was only representing itself, and dismissed the notion that this visit would open the door for other countries to do the same.

Both Qatar and Malaysia have always maintained a dialogue with Hamas, so the move did not come as a surprise, the official said. Neither country maintains diplomatic ties with Israel.

Najib visited a Gaza university and government offices, as well as the family of Ahmed Jabari, who was killed in November at the start of Operation Pillar of Defense.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki plans to visit Gaza next month.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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