S'pore "will continue aiding Palestine's nation-building efforts"

RAMALLAH (Palestinian Territories) - Singapore will continue to help the nation-building efforts of Palestinians by training more Palestine officials in areas such as public finance and administration.

Some 150 Palestinian officials have been trained in Singapore since 1996 and the numbers are set to rise in the next four years, said Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli.

More officials are expected to head to the Republic for training under a five-year, $5 million programme Singapore started last year for them.

This technical assistance programme will give these officials "early exposure and training at the leadership level", said Mr Masagos, adding that it will prepare them "in the event that Palestine becomes a state".

Describing Palestine as "the last occupied territory in the world, until Crimea", he said that Singapore's offer to train Palestine officials is a practical one that can have a greater impact on Palestine than making cash contributions.

He added that the Palestinian problem is "complicated" and not simply one of Jews against Muslims.

He also reiterated that Singapore supports for the right of the Palestinians to a homeland and that it believes that Israel and the Palestine can have peace based on a "negotiated two-state solution".

"We are friendly to both," said Mr Masagos of Singapore's ties with Israel and the Palestine, in a media interview on Wednesday wrapping up a six-hour visit to the Palestinian city of Ramallah, which is the administrative city for the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) government.

During the visit, he called on President Mahmoud Abbas who "expressed appreciation for Singapore's efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and support the reconstruction of Gaza", said a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) statement on Thursday.

Two weeks ago, Singapore announced a contribution of US$100,000 (S$127,000) towards a UNICEF programme to provide clean water and sanitation in Gaza. That came on top of an earlier US$100,000 contribution through the Singapore Red Cross in July for humanitarian relief efforts and a further $1.7 million raised through public fund-raising.

President Abbas also welcomed Singapore's technical assistance programme as well as Mr Masagos' suggestion to explore additional training of Palestinian officials at the Asia-Middle East Dialogue Regional Training Centre in Jordan, the MFA added.

In addition, Mr Masagos reiterated the standing invitation for President Abbas to visit Singapore.

In Ramallah, Mr Masagos also called on Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and they discussed potential cooperation in areas such as water management and public administration, said the MFA.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad Al-Maliki hosted Mr Masagos to lunch, where they discussed the challenges facing the Middle East.

Mr Masagos also laid a wreath at the tomb of former PNA President Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004.

It was Mr Masagos' first visit to Palestine since being appointed Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in 2011. The last time a Singapore cabinet minister visited Ramallah was former Minister for Foreign Affairs George Yeo in 2007.

Said Mr Masagos of his impression of Ramallah: "It is not, (like what is) in many people's minds, a war-torn town full of bullet holes and ravaged (by) bombs. It is like any modern small city."

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