New Zealand is calling for a "humanitarian pause" in Gaza as Israel retaliates against Hamas' brutal attacks earlier in October.
A debate was held at the United National Security Council on Wednesday morning (NZT) on the unfolding situation in the region, sparked by a Hamas incursion into Israel on October 7 that led to the deaths of about 1400 people and the abduction of many others. Israel is now responding with regular bombardments and a blockade of Hamas-governed Gaza.
Israeli air strikes continued overnight on Gaza, reportedly killing more than 700 Palestinians, according to the Gazan health ministry. The ministry says more than 5700 Palestinians have died in the conflict so far.
At the UN meeting, remarking on the Hamas attack, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said nothing could justify the "deliberate killing, injuring and kidnapping of civilians". But he also said the same of "launching rockets against civilian targets".
"Those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people... even war has rules," he said.
Israel's representative Gilad Erdan attacked Guterres' comments and called for him to resign.
New Zealand's Permanent Representative to the UN Carolyn Schwalger gave a statement, saying the "protection of civilians and delivery of humanitarian assistance is the most urgent priority".
"New Zealand joins calls for a humanitarian pause to provide neutral, impartial, and independent humanitarian organisations an opportunity to provide assistance and protection to those in Gaza who desperately need it," she said.
Schwalger also called for the establishment of designated safe areas that are "strictly off limits as targets, or for military use, and also call for humanitarian corridors to ensure the vital assistance reaches where it is most needed".
She said New Zealand expected both Israel and Hamas to act in accordance with international law, and that Israel needed to provide basic needs for civilians in Gaza.
"These legal obligations cannot be dispensed with in times of conflict. New Zealand urges all parties, including Israel and Egypt, to rapidly facilitate access for the delivery of urgent humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza, through the Rafah border crossing. The volume of aid arriving in Gaza must significantly increase from recent levels."
In a separate statement to press, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins reiterated these comments, saying all parties must follow international law and "demonstrate basic humanity".
"We are appalled by Hamas's brutality, their targeting of civilians, and the taking of hostages, which are in clear violations of international law. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages."
Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said it was "intolerable to see civilians continue to suffer disproportionately as innocent victims of this conflict".
"New Zealand supports the right of Israel to defend itself against Hamas's terrorist attacks, but the way it does so matters. It must abide by international law, exercise restraint, and prioritise the protection of civilians. Ultimately there is no military solution that will bring about a just and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians."
The UN statement was made in consultation with the National Party, which is in the process of forming a new Government.