Prime Minister Christopher Luxon says fighting resuming in Israel and Palestine is “heartbreaking” while asserting no peace will be achieved through military action.
Luxon was responding to news reports that Israel had resumed its war against Hamas just 30 minutes after a humanitarian truce expired on Saturday (NZ time) firing missiles into the besieged Palestinian enclave of Gaza.
There were also reports Hamas had resumed its attacks on Israel, and claims it had breached the humanitarian pause.
The halt in fighting began on November 24. It initially lasted four days then was extended for several days with the help of Qatar and fellow mediator Egypt.
During the week-long truce, Hamas and other militants in Gaza released more than 100 hostages, most of them Israelis, in return for 240 Palestinians freed from prisons in Israel. About 140 hostages remain in Gaza.
“It’s incredibly heartbreaking to see the break in the humanitarian pause,” Luxon told reporters on Sunday.
“Everyone wanted that to continue. We also want to see steps made towards a ceasefire as well.
“But for a ceasefire to happen, both parties have to want to participate in a ceasefire.
“And that’s what you’re seeing at the moment is there was not a political will on both sides to make that happen.
“That’s why we keep urging for steps towards a ceasefire to be the focus of everything.
“Military action isn’t going to deliver peace in the Middle East, it’s going to be restarting the Middle East peace process.”
Hamas started the war with a deadly October 7 attack on Israel, during which it and other Palestinian militants killed about 1200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 240 people captive. Authorities have only provided approximate figures.
Since then, Israel’s bombardment and invasion in Gaza have killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants. More than three-quarters of the population of 2.3 million have been uprooted, after weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign, leading to a humanitarian crisis.
Most of Gaza’s population is now crammed into the south with no exit, raising questions over how an Israeli offensive there can avoid heavy civilian casualties.
The violence and mounting death toll has seen major protests around the world, including in New Zealand.
A recent poll found 60 per cent of respondents wanted the Government to call for an immediate ceasefire.
Luxon had been relatively quiet on the conflict during caretaker government period, but today took the opportunity to give a clear message about New Zealand’s position on the conflict and call for international law to be respected by both sides.
“Israel has a right to defend itself. But it’s not just at any cost and causing huge damage and huge pain and suffering to civilians and innocent civilians.
“Equally, Hamas needs to release all hostages, stop using human shields... and be compliant with international humanitarian law.
“That’s what we expect all parties to do is to be fully compliant with international humanitarian law. We really want to see the peace process restarted.
“It’s the best way in which peace will be delivered in the Middle East not through military action.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met on Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials on his third visit to the region since the start of the war two months ago.
While expressing hope at the time that the ceasefire could be extended, Blinken said if Israel resumed the war and moved against southern Gaza to pursue Hamas, it must do so in “compliance with international humanitarian law” and must have “a clear plan in place” to protect civilians. He said Israeli leaders understood that “the massive levels of civilian life and displacement scale we saw in the north must not be repeated in the south.”
There has long been bipartisan support from New Zealand’s two major political parties for a two-state solution, which would see security guarantees for Israel, negotiated land swaps and careful management of Jerusalem’s holy sites.
Labour has been more vocal at present than National on the conflict and in calling for a ceasefire.
Hipkins had been restrained during the caretaker Prime Minister period before making a call in his capacity as Labour leader for a ceasefire despite National not approving.
Hipkins said that it was “untenable” for him “to stand by and watch the horrific scenes we are witnessing without calling for a ceasefire”.
Hipkins said he had discussed the call with Labour’s caucus, many of whom feel a deep sense of injustice over the conflict. The Greens and Te Pāti Māori have also been calling for a ceasefire, with the latter also calling for the Israeli ambassador to be expelled.
New Zealand has so far contributed $10 million in humanitarian assistance.
In 2017, the National-led Government sponsored a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in Palestine. It was a rare resolution passed, with the United States opting to abstain rather than veto it. This saw Israel withdraw its ambassador in retaliation.
Under the Labour Government, New Zealand did not recognise Palestine as a state but there were some MPs within the Government pushing for that to change. The Greens also have a policy to recognise Palestine as a state.
Prior to the recent escalation in violence, Labour’s Phil Twyford said if re-elected to government, Labour would invite the Palestinian ambassador based in Canberra to present his credentials as ambassador to New Zealand.
Hipkins said this process had been paused following the attacks by Hamas on October 7.
- additional reporting AP