The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) expressed disappointment Saturday after Malaysia said it would not allow Israeli swimmers to attend a competition in the country that will serve as a qualifying event for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Malaysia is one of a number of Muslim-majority countries that has no formal diplomatic ties with Israel, with entry to the country on an Israeli passport prohibited.
The city of Kuching in the eastern Sarawak state will host hundreds of swimmers from 70 countries from July 29th to August 4th.
But on Thursday, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Kuala Lumpur would deny visas to Israeli para-swimmers seeking to attend the meet.
“We maintain our stand on the prohibition. If they do come, it is a violation,” he was quoted as saying by the official Bernama news agency.
“If they (the International Paralympic Committee) want to withdraw Malaysia’s right to host the championship, they can do so.”
The IPC said in a statement that it was “disappointed” with Mahathir’s comments, although it would aim to “find a solution” to the issue.
Many in Malaysia support the Palestinian cause, with thousands taking to the streets to protest in December 2017 when US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital.
In 1997, the Israeli cricket team was allowed to play in the 22-nation International Cricket Council Trophy tournament in Kuala Lumpur despite violent street protests.
It was the first official visit by an Israeli sports delegation to Malaysia.
Malaysia has long supported a two-state solution in the Palestine-Israel conflict.
The status of Jerusalem, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths, is one of the biggest obstacles to a peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians who want East Jerusalem recognized as the capital of a Palestinian state.
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