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Israel, Hamas both bear responsibility for Gaza conflict: Shanmugam

Loss of innocent lives is unacceptable, says Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister, restating Singapore's support for the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland under a two-state solution.

SINGAPORE: Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam says Israel and Hamas both bear responsibility for the escalating conflict in Gaza, in hostilities which have claimed nearly 2,000 lives, mostly Palestinian civilians, over the past 29 days.

"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," Mr Shanmugam told Parliament on Tuesday (Aug 5). 

He pointed out that Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, has "cynically" used civilians as shields against missiles. "Let me quote Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, who went on Gaza national television, and said that the human-shield strategy has proven 'very effective'. The rockets that Hamas fires into Israel rarely kill any civilian or cause any serious damage," Mr Shanmugam said. 

"But then you would have to ask, why launch rockets without causing any real damage to the other side, but inviting great damage to your own people? Then, putting your own civilians in the line of fire when the response comes. Because Hamas knows that its cause is helped when Gazans die. If there is one thing that helps Hamas most, that gives it any legitimacy, it is dead civilians and rockets in schools."

"The exploitation of dead children by Hamas is unacceptable. But equally, Israel’s response is disproportionate," he said.

Mr Shanmugam said Israel can and should do more to ensure that civilian casualties are minimised. "The loss of many innocent lives, especially children, is completely unacceptable." If indeed Israel has targeted civilians, that would be a serious international crime and should be punished, said Mr Shanmugam, who is also Singapore's Law Minister.

He said Singapore supports the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland under a two-state solution. Last year, at the United Nations General Assembly, Singapore voted for all Palestinian-related resolutions. Singapore has also maintained good relations with the Palestinian National Authority.

But Mr Shanmugam told Parliament that there is a limit to what the United Nations can do, and as such there is also little that Singapore is able to do. 

He addressed concerns from members of the House about the impact of the crisis on Singapore and the region, including the fear of further self-radicalisation. "We can try to be safe, and secure in Singapore, but how do we prevent self-radicalisation? We can try and monitor, we can try and persuade within Singapore, but do we have control to what is happening in the region what access people get to images?" Mr Shanmugam asked.

"Our relationship with Israel is not any deeper than many other countries. In fact, several countries have much more leverage over Israel. The fact is - in an interconnected world, anything that happens anywhere in the world almost will have a serious impact on us. That's the reality."

An Egyptian-mediated truce halting the Gaza conflict went into effect on Tuesday. Mr Shanmugam said he hopes that with a ceasefire, the international community and Singapore would be able to do more to help. 

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