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Singapore's diplomatic relations with Israel 'no reason' to cause difficulty with Malaysia: PM Lee

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s relationship with Malaysia should not be complicated by the countries’ differing diplomatic relations with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday (Oct 30).

“I don’t think they should affect our bilateral relations. I think we have each expressed our views on what is happening in the Middle East,” he said during a joint press conference with Malaysia Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim after the 10th leaders’ retreat in Singapore.

Mr Lee was responding to a question about how Singapore and Malaysia will ensure that their approaches and ground sentiments to the Middle East conflict do not have a “spillover effect” on bilateral relations.

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On Oct 7, Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, with Israeli authorities saying the militants killed about 1,400 people and took at least 239 hostages.

Israel responded by bombarding Gaza, particularly in the north and launching a ground offensive. Medical authorities in the Gaza Strip, which has a population of 2.3 million people, said on Sunday that 8,005 people – including 3,324 minors – had been killed, Reuters reported.

Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam had said on Oct 12 that Israel’s response should be consistent with international law and international rules of war.

Mr Lee said Singapore has condemned the “human tragedy” of innocent people and children being killed, and maintained that Israel and the Palestinian Authority should work towards a negotiated two-state solution in the Middle East.

“I think Singaporeans understand where we stand,” he said.

Mr Lee added Malaysia has also made its position clear and pointed out that its situation is “not the same as ours”.

“Because we have diplomatic relations with Israel, but at the same time, we have friendly relations with the Palestine Authority,” he said.

“And Malaysia has very friendly relations with the Palestine Authority, but they do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. So the diplomatic situation is not identical, but there is no reason for that to cause a difficulty between Malaysia and Singapore.”

Mr Anwar previously said that Malaysia does not agree with “Western pressure” to condemn Hamas, and the Muslim-majority country has held several large-scale rallies in solidarity with the Palestinians. 

Mr Anwar said on Monday that Malaysia has taken a “much stronger” position as he feels the issue in the Middle East is not what happened in recent weeks, but what he calls “politics of dispossession”.

“The countries cannot continue to colonise another part of the Palestinian lands. But what is critical for now is of course peace, and stop the killings of civilians, babies and women,” he said, adding that he supports an immediate resolution and a “paramount” need for humanitarian assistance.

Nevertheless, Mr Anwar said Malaysia and Singapore share a common position in that they both on Oct 27 voted in favour of a United Nations resolution to protect civilians and uphold legal and humanitarian obligations amid the conflict.

The resolution called for an “immediate, durable, sustained humanitarian truce, leading to a cessation of hostilities”. It also called for the immediate, continuous and unhindered provision of essential supplies to the civilians in Gaza.

“That position is jointly endorsed by both countries and majority of countries in the world,” Mr Anwar said. 

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