Asean calls for ‘immediate ceasefire’ as Malaysia warns time running out for Gaza

Israel launched its offensive in response to the Hamas-led raid on its territory on October 7, which killed about 1,160 people and took scores hostage into Gaza.

Southeast Asia is home to 40 per cent of the world’s Muslim population. Indonesia and Malaysia staunchly support the Palestinian cause, and their leaders have issued stern diplomatic condemnations of Israel, while citizens have launched consumer boycott campaigns against companies perceived to have Israeli links.
But Israel also has allies in the region, with Singapore in particular reported by the AFP news agency to have balked at suggestions to condemn “the use of starvation” in the Gaza Strip, language likely to infuriate Israel.
US Air Force members prepare a humanitarian aid drop for Gaza residents in this picture released on March 5. Photo: US Central Command via X/Reuters

Speaking at a separate extraordinary session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mohamad Alamin on Tuesday said time was running out for desperate Gazans as reports mount of starvation.

“Time is against us, and Malaysia urges for international cooperation for the unconditional, unimpeded humanitarian corridor and access for aid to reach Gaza,” Alamin said.

Calling Israel’s action against Palestinians as “wanton atrocities”, Alamin said the global effort to gather humanitarian assistance to Gaza was meaningless because of “bureaucracy and unnecessary obstacles” preventing the aid from reaching those who needed it.

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This came as the latest round of talks, for the release of 40 hostages in return for a six-week ceasefire ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, failed to reach a breakthrough on Tuesday, AP reported.

Aid groups have said it has become nearly impossible to deliver supplies within most of Gaza because of the difficulty of coordinating with the Israeli military, the ongoing hostilities, and the breakdown of public order.

Alamin said Malaysia had increased its efforts in “seeking justice” for Palestinians through diplomatic and legal campaigns at various international platforms, in line with the decision agreed at the last OIC Extraordinary Summit.

In the previous summit last November in Riyadh, OIC leaders condemned Israel’s “barbaric” destruction of hospitals in the Gaza Strip, its efforts to prevent the delivery of medicine, food and fuel to Palestinians, and moves to cut off electricity, water and basic services, including communication and internet services.

Aid parcels are airdropped over the northern Gaza Strip on March 5. Photo: AFP
Malaysia has sent more than 100 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Gaza by cargo flight through the Rafah-Gaza crossing and pledged to continue to fund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) – and increase the funding if necessary – despite Western countries doing the opposite on the basis of Israel’s allegations that UNRWA workers were in cahoots with Hamas in the October 7 incursion.

The Malaysian government, however, had to drop three NGO leaders from their aid mission in February, after their names emerged in the US FBI terror watch list.

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Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has repeatedly said Malaysia will continue to take strong measures against Israel – whose statehood it refuses to recognise.
In December, Malaysia barred vessels owned by Israeli shipping firm Zim from docking and unloading cargo at its ports, along with any ship bearing the Israeli flag, as a direct response to Israel’s continued “assault and brutality towards the people of Palestine”.
Despite the maritime industry making up some 40 per cent of the GDP of Malaysia, which exports more than 90 per cent of its products by sea, Anwar said the country “can handle” the shortfall that came from that decision.

“True, we may lose a bit with ships not coming, but this is our principle of humanity,” the prime minister said at a dialogue with local university students in December.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Press, Associated Press

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