Malaysia PM Visits Gaza in Show of Solidarity With Palestinians

Hamas leader Ismail Hanieyh says Israeli government turning from 'extreme' to 'more fanatic'; Malaysian premier says visit's purpose is to express 'opposition to the aggression on Gaza.'

Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamed Najib Abdul Razak visited the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in a sign of solidarity with the Palestinians, on the day Israel held a general election.

Hamas officials said the visit aimed at defying the political and economic blockade Israel has imposed on the area since the Islamist movement seized control there in 2007.

Razak told a joint news conference in Gaza City with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh that he came "to express my solidarity with the Palestinian people."

"This is a humanitarian visit to express our deep concerns for what happens to the Palestinian people in Gaza and to express our opposition to the aggression on Gaza," he added.

Haniyeh said the trip was a response to a visit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had made to the Western Wall in Jerusalem after casting his vote in the election.

The Hamas leader said the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest existing prayer site, was "a Palestinian, Arab and Islamic Wall" and Jerusalem was an "an Islamic, Arab and Palestinian city."

Pre-election polls in Israel show that Netanyahu's hawkish Likud-Beiteinu faction will emerge as the largest party in parliament. The ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party was set to at least quadruple its strength to around 15 seats.

"It is clear that the [Israeli] government is turning from being extreme to being more fanatic," Haniyeh said, calling for a Palestinian strategy against "growing Zionist extremism."

Israel imposed its blockade on the Gaza Strip after Hamas routed security officials loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, enabling the Islamist faction to seize sole control of the enclave.

Western countries have placed Hamas under a diplomatic boycott because of its refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist, honor past Israeli-Palestinian agreements, and renounce violence.