Israel, Hamas must act to end conflict: Singapore

A Palestinian inspecting destroyed houses and the area where the Al-Wafaa hospital used to stand in the Al-Shejaea neighbourhood of Gaza City yesterday, after a 72-hour truce agreed by Israel and Hamas went into effect following intense global pressu
A Palestinian inspecting destroyed houses and the area where the Al-Wafaa hospital used to stand in the Al-Shejaea neighbourhood of Gaza City yesterday, after a 72-hour truce agreed by Israel and Hamas went into effect following intense global pressure to end the conflict.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Both Israel and Hamas are responsible for the escalating conflict in Gaza that has claimed more than a thousand lives so far. But Israel can and should do more to minimise civilian casualties that have shot up in the past month.

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam made clear Singapore's position on the conflict yesterday, amid calls by some Members of Parliament and Singaporeans for the Government to take a stand.

He said both Israel and Hamas were in the wrong, and had a part to play in ending the violence.

"While we understand the legitimate right of Israel to self- defence, the rising Palestinian death toll... 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," he added.

The death toll in Gaza has topped 1,700 as a 72-hour ceasefire came into effect yesterday. Most of those killed in the month-long violence were said to be civilians. More than 60 have also been killed on the Israeli side.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC), Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) asked if Singapore could denounce Israel's actions more strongly.

Responding, Mr Shanmugam urged a careful examination of the conflict's facts. Hamas fired over 2,000 rockets into Israel, inviting retaliation and putting Palestinians in the line of fire. The rockets have been intentionally launched from densely populated areas, and a Hamas spokesman spoke on national TV about the strategy's effectiveness.

"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... Hamas knows that its cause is helped when Gazans die," he said.

Singapore has equally made clear that Israel's response is disproportionate. It would be "completely unacceptable" if innocent civilians have been targeted, and Singapore will support prosecution of those responsible under international law, said Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister.

But the rights and wrongs will have to be determined by a new United Nations commission investigating violations of humanitarian laws in Gaza, he added.

Israel should show more commitment to the two-state solution, and comply with its international law obligations. Hamas should cease attacks and change its intention to destroy Israel.

He said Singapore supported the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, and has voted for all Palestinian-related resolutions at the UN. Singapore also maintained good ties with the Palestinian National Authority and provided it with financial support in the form of an enhanced technical assistance programme.

"Both politically and materially and philosophically, we have been supportive of the Palestine cause and have made that very public," he said to Mr Zaqy, who said there was a perception that Singapore was siding with Israel.

Mr Shanmugam said there was a limit to what Singapore could do to solve the crisis, but the Government, people and aid groups have been raising funds to help.

yuenc@sph.com.sg