Parliament: Shanmugam weighs in on civilian deaths in Gaza

Parliament: Shanmugam weighs in on civilian deaths in Gaza
A Palestinian boy mourns the death of his brother who medics said was killed by an Israeli air strike, at a hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 2, 2014.

SINGAPORE - Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam addressed on Tuesday concerns of Members of Parliament about the loss of innocent lives in Gaza, saying that Singapore will support prosecution if there is targeting of civilians, considered a crime under international laws.


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Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam's reply to the parliamentary question and supplementary questions

QUESTION:

MR ZAQY MOHAMAD: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) what is Singapore's position on the latest Gaza conflict that has seen massive Palestinian civilian casualties due to Israeli military action; (b) how does the Ministry plan to address concerns that the Government has not issued a strong enough statement on the violence against civilians; and (c) what are the Ministry's plans to communicate its position to the Muslim and non-Muslim population in Singapore to manage the divisiveness of the issue.

REPLY:

Madam Speaker, the latest conflict in Gaza has harmed the Middle East Peace Process. It has further made worse the already bad situation in the Middle East. As with all conflicts, Singapore and the international community's primary concern has to be, and is, the security and safety of innocent civilians from all sides.

This latest conflict in Gaza comes after the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in June, as well as the abduction and killing of a Palestinian teenager in July. The killing of the three Israeli teenagers and the killing of the Palestinian teenager are heinous crimes. MFA has strongly condemned the two terrible crimes, and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. We have also urged the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to do everything possible to reduce tensions, and protect the lives of innocent civilians. Unfortunately, tensions between the two sides have escalated into an open conflict. Hamas has launched rocket attacks, numbered at over 2000 on a regular basis. On 8 July, Israel started "Operation Protective Edge" to destroy the rocket-launching sites, the smuggling tunnels and the munitions stockpiles to prevent attacks on Israel. However, these attacks have also caused severe civilian casualties, which are rising quickly.

And on the 10th of July, we issued a statement expressing our deep concern over the escalating violence. We called on Israel to exercise maximum restraint, and urged it to do its utmost to protect innocent civilian lives. We also called for the rocket attacks on Israel to cease immediately, and urged all sides to urgently find ways to de-escalate the situation and work towards a ceasefire. On the 15th of July 2014, we welcomed and supported the Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire. We were encouraged by Israel and the Palestinian National Authority's acceptance of the proposal, and we had hoped that Hamas would do the same. However, Hamas did not accept the Egyptian proposal, and the violence continued. On 17 July 2014, Israeli defence forces began their land offensive into Gaza. MFA issued another statement stating that Singapore was seriously disturbed by the deteriorating situation in Gaza, expressed our strong support for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and for all parties to do their utmost to ensure the protection of civilians and that humanitarian assistance continued to reach all those in need. We again urged all parties to work towards a lasting ceasefire. We reminded all parties that it was important to break the cycle of violence, and that the focus had to be the safety and security of all innocent people affected by the conflict.

Unfortunately, the 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire, which was announced by the US and the United Nations, ended just a few hours after it started on Friday 1 August 2014.

Regrettably, the conflict has raged on with more casualties on both sides. A new 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire is scheduled to begin today. We can only hope that this will hold. But even as I speak, we can't be sure given the recent history.

I would like to make some key points on what Singapore's position is. First, the loss of many innocent lives, especially young children, is completely unacceptable. Many Palestinians have also been displaced from their homes. Second, in this complex situation, both sides blame the other for what is happening. Israel says that it has to respond to Hamas launching thousands of rockets against Israel, some of which now reach Tel Aviv. Nevertheless, there is the question of how Israel has responded. While we understand the legitimate right of Israel to self-defence, the rising Palestinian death toll - over a thousand killed so far, the majority of them civilians, including many women, and children - is tragic and extremely distressing. It raises the question of whether Israel's response to the threat is proportionate. Whether or not this response is justified, we believe that Israel can and should do more to ensure that civilian casualties are minimised. Hamas in Gaza should also take maximum precautions to ensure that civilians are not put in harm's way. Unfortunately, Hamas' cynical approach has been the very opposite - to deliberately use civilians as shield. The rocket attacks on Israel should stop and Israel should stop its operations in Gaza. Third, Singapore supports the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland under a two-state solution. And Israelis must also be able to live in enduring peace and security. Unfortunately, this is proving to be extremely difficult to realise. The situation is compounded by the fact that Hamas does not recognise Israel, and calls for the destruction of Israel. The rocket attacks from Gaza, on Israel, have increased from previous attacks on Israel in 2009 and 2012, and now Israel's counter attack has caused significantly large casualties among the Palestinian population, including innocent civilians. Fourth, only a negotiated settlement consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 242 can provide the basis for a viable, long term solution. This has been Singapore's consistent position. Unfortunately, talks broke down in April despite the best efforts of the United States. I believe that Israel can, and should show full commitment to the two-state solution, and comply with its international law obligations, and that Hamas should stop its attacks on Israel. Fifth, unless compromises are made by the parties involved, the cycle of violence will repeat itself over and over again. We have made clear, in public, our position on the latest conflict. We have issued statements, which have referred to the actions of both parties. Both bear responsibility. We all share a concern for the loss and suffering of innocent lives. Both Israel and Hamas should do their part to stop this violence. We have joined the international community in urging restraint and supporting humanitarian efforts.

Singaporeans have started donating and MUIS has been collecting funds at the mosques, and the Singapore Red Cross Society and Mercy Relief have launched appeals for donations. Mercy Relief has announced that it has collected over S$400,000. The Singapore government has pledged US$100,000 in response to international efforts and is channelling the funds through the Singapore Red Cross. But money is not the key issue. If there is a stop to the violence, the international community will come forward to help very generously, including Singapore. Money is not the issue; political will is. Thank you.

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