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Parliament: Shanmugam weighs in on civilian deaths in Gaza

Published on Aug 5, 2014 3:54 PM
Palestinians living in Bolivia and other supporters participate in a candlelight vigil to demonstrate their solidarity with those living in Gaza, in La Paz, on Aug 4, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

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.

However, he urged a careful examination of the facts of the conflict, which has escalated in the past month. The death toll in Gaza has topped 1,400, as both sides start a 72-hour ceasefire on Tuesday.

About 60 were killed on the Israel side.

"If indeed the facts are that it's a pure targeting of innocent civilians, that is completely uncacceptable and an international crime. We will support prosecution under international laws," he said. "However, there is a need to look at the facts carefully."

Laying out the situation, Mr Shanmugam noted that Hamas has continued firing rockets into Israel - more than 2,000 so far - even though they have caused little damage because of Israel's defences.

This has invited retaliation, putting the Palestinian people in the line of fire, he added.

Yet, Hamas continues to do so, said Mr Shanmugam, who also pointed out that a Hamas spokesman had gone on television to say that the human-shield strategy had proven very effective.

"Hamas knows its cause is helped when civilians die," Mr Shanmugam said. "The exploitation of dead children is completely unacceptable."

He also noted that no rockets had been fired from the West Bank, which is not under Hamas but the Palestinian National Authority.

Equally, he said, Singapore has made clear that it believes Israel's response in Gaza has not been proportionate.

Israel's month-long offensive has caused the loss of many innocent lives and is "completely unacceptable". He noted that many Palestinians have also been displaced from their homes.

According to the United Nations, at least 260,000 out of 1.8 million Palestinians have been displaced.

While Israel has a right to defend itself, said Mr Shanmugam, the killing of civilians "raises questions", he said.

But the rights and wrongs of the situation will have to be decided by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is launching an inquiry into potential violations of human rights in the Gaza Strip, he added.

To questions from MPs Zaqy Mohamad and Zainal Sapari about whether Singapore could do more to help Palestinians affected by the conflict, Mr Shanmugam said various aid agencies here have collected funds and also provided humanitarian aid. The Government has also pledged financial support by channeling funds through these agencies, such as the Red Cross.

With a ceasefire, the international community, and Singapore, would be able to do more to help, he noted.

"Money is not the issue, political will is," said Mr Shanmugam.