Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Aman
Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah AmanReuters

Malaysia on Thursday defended the decision to allow a high-level Israeli delegation to attend a United Nations (UN) conference in Kuala Lumpur after the move sparked widespread anger in the Muslim-majority country.

Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said Malaysia, as host of last week's international forum on urban development, had no choice but to allow all UN member states to take part.

Malaysia has no formal diplomatic ties with Israel and many in the country support the Palestinian Authority, with thousands taking to the streets in December to protest when US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the Jewish state's capital. Later that month, Malaysia declared that it would open an embassy in one of Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods.

The Israeli delegation at the conference was led by David Roet, who used to be Israel's deputy ambassador to the UN, and included other senior foreign ministry officials and a former minister, the Times of Israel reported.

Roet posted pictures of himself on Twitter at various locations around Kuala Lumpur and next to a Malaysian flag.

"I have great hopes for good relations between our two countries in the future," he said in a tweet.

Opposition groups and Islamic NGOs attacked the government for allowing him to take part in the event, with Rais Hussin from political party Bersatu labeling it a "great disservice to the Palestinian cause."

"Israel will be very happy that this has happened," he told AFP.

But Foreign Minister Anifah insisted Malaysia had been compelled to allow Israel to participate, noting the letter of invitation to the Jewish state was not signed by any Malaysian official.

"The issue of Malaysia tacitly establishing links with Israel through the hosting of this forum does not arise," he said in a statement.

"Our position on Israel remains unchanged. To imply otherwise is an indication of malicious and malignant intent."

Malaysia has previously stopped Israelis from entering the country for international events.

In 2015 two Israeli windsurfers were denied visas for a competition on the holiday island of Langkawi, forcing them to withdraw from the event.

In 2016, Malaysia decided not to host the 67th FIFA Conference scheduled for May 2017 because an Israeli delegation was scheduled to participate.