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HomesingaporeIsrael-Hamas conflict a 'reminder' for Singapore that it has national interests at...

Israel-Hamas conflict a 'reminder' for Singapore that it has national interests at stake: Vivian Balakrishnan

SINGAPORE: The Israel-Hamas conflict is a reminder for Singapore that it has national interests at stake, said Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, as he spelt out the principles underpinning the government’s position on what he described as an “unfolding tragedy”.

Speaking in parliament on Monday (Nov 6) after more than 30 parliamentary questions and a motion on the war were filed, he pointed to the principle that all states have the legitimate and inherent right to defend themselves, as enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations (UN) Charter.

“This is a very important principle for Singapore, and have no doubt – if Singapore is ever attacked, we would certainly assert and exercise the right of self-defence,” he added.

Dr Balakrishnan added that all countries must ensure that if military action is taken in exercising this right of self-defence, they abide by principles of “necessity and proportionality”.

“They must also comply with the laws of war, including the principle of distinction and humanity enshrined in the Geneva Conventions,” he added.

“In such times, like this, it is crucial that decisions are not made out of anger, blind wrath and hatred, but are made in line with moral values and legal principles that shape our common humanity.”

Singapore must always take a zero-tolerance approach towards terrorism, said Dr Balakrishnan.

“We have to be categorical in rejecting terrorism – whoever, whenever, wherever it is perpetrated … We do so not just out of sympathy, but because terrorism is a clear and present danger and threat for Singapore and Singaporeans,” he said.

A motion about the conflict was filed by MP Vikram Nair (PAP-Sembawang), MP Alex Yam (PAP-Marsiling-Yew Tee), and MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (PAP-Chua Chu Kang) seeking to express condolences to the innocent victims and civilian casualties in the war, as well as advocate the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid.

It also condemned those responsible for the terrorist acts and violations of international law, and called for all parties to ensure the safety and security of civilians, including the release of all hostages.

The motion also reiterated Singapore’s longstanding commitment to a negotiated two-state solution consistent with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and urged all Singaporeans to safeguard and uphold its multiracial and multi-religious peace and harmony.

“This episode is also a reminder to all Singaporeans that we do have our national interests at stake … We must reject terrorism in all its forms. No excuses, no ifs, no buts, no short-term political advantage. Reject terrorism. If attacked, all of us here must give the government of the day the ability to exercise the right of self-defence,” said Dr Balakrishnan, supporting the motion.

“But even when it does so, we will expect the government of the day to uphold international law. And as Singaporeans, we will continue to extend humanitarian assistance and protection to all civilians. We should support the peaceful resolution of disputes. And we must nurture and protect our own precious cohesion and harmony.”

Militant group Hamas launched raids into Israel on Oct 7, killing about 1,400 people and capturing more than 200 hostages.

Since then, Israel has relentlessly bombarded Gaza and sent in ground troops. Health authorities in Gaza estimate that more than 9,000 Palestinians have died, including women and children, and more than 1.5 million people have been displaced from their homes.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected growing calls for a ceasefire in Gaza,  and demanded the return of all the hostages that Hamas took during its Oct 7 attack on Israel.

Singapore has condemned Hamas’ raids, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saying last month that the attack was “horrendous” and could not be justified.

While Israel has the “legitimate right to defend its citizens”, it must comply with international law, including laws of war, and do its utmost to protect the safety and security of civilians, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said last month.

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Singapore votes in favour of UN resolution to protect civilians, uphold humanitarian obligations in Gaza Strip

Last month, Singapore voted in favour of a resolution during an emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly to protect civilians and uphold legal and humanitarian obligations amid conflict in the Gaza Strip.

The resolution outlined several terms, including recalling existing resolutions to protect civilians in armed conflict.

It also expressed “grave concern” over the latest escalation of violence since the attack by Hamas on Israel and the “grave deterioration” of the situation in the region.

“COMPREHENSIVE, JUST AND DURABLE” SOLUTION

Singapore continues to uphold its “long-standing and consistent” position for a negotiated two-state solution, consistent with relevant UN Security Council resolutions, said Dr Balakrishnan.

This is the only viable option for a “comprehensive, just and durable” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he added.

“We have consistently stated, for a long time, that Israel must accept a Palestinian state, just as Palestinians must accept Israel’s right to exist. We have expressed our firm opposition to violations of international law and to unilateral measures which imperil the prospects for peace,” said the minister.

“Many of you know we’ve got good relations with Israel. I hope you also know we have good relations with the Palestinian people and with the Palestinian authority.”

He added: “It is our sincere hope that, over time, both sides will muster the political will … They need the political leadership with the conviction, the courage and the political capital, which they are willing to expend in order to make a two-state solution a reality. And if they don’t, then they are doomed to repeated cycles of violence.”

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External political events must not be allowed to divide Singaporeans, said Dr Balakrishnan.

“Our religious and racial harmony is very precious. We must not allow anything to break this or split our society. And it is heartening that so many of our faith and community leaders strongly feel this, say this and operate on this basis.”

The conflict is not a religious one and this is worth emphasising, said Dr Balakrishnan.

“At its core, the conflict has always been about territory, self-determination, identity and complicated by intra-Palestinian and intra-Israeli domestic politics … It provides fertile ground for extremists on both sides to misuse religion to further their political aims,” he added.

“And we must not fall into that trap.”

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PM Lee explains importance for Singapore to maintain relations with Israelis and Palestinians, provide aid to civilians

In his speech, Dr Balakrishnan also stressed that humanitarian assistance must reach the affected civilian populations immediately.

“We call on all parties to enable this, and particularly Israel and Egypt which have immediate borders with Gaza,” he said.

The Singapore government has contributed seed funding of about S$300,000 to the Singapore Red Cross, which is working with its partners to support the relief effort in Gaza, including the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Egyptian Red Crescent Society, he noted.

In total, Singaporeans have donated nearly S$5 million to the fundraising drives by the Singapore Red Cross and the Rahmatan Lil Alamin Foundation (RLAF).

Dr Balakrishnan also gave an update on Singaporeans in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

He said that at present, 40 registered Singaporeans remain in Israel and the Palestinian Territories and MFA continues to be in contact with Singaporeans who have chosen to remain.

More than 120 Singaporeans have left by land or air earlier. While most Singaporeans left Israel via commercial means, a few who were unable to do so departed via dedicated evacuation flights organised by other countries.

Dr Balakrishnan thanked the governments of Australia, Canada, Portugal and South Korea for helping Singaporeans to leave Israel safely. 

“We must never allow conflicts elsewhere to divide us domestically. I am glad that today, my sense of the House is that we have unanimity. We will have consensus in voting for this motion,” he said.

“And I make this appeal as Foreign Minister, that our ability to conduct consistent and coherent foreign policy in a very volatile and dangerous world depends upon domestic cohesion and consensus.”

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