Israel-Hamas conflict: Prime Minister Chris Hipkins wants New Zealand 'poised' to respond

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins wants New Zealand "poised and ready to contribute to any international humanitarian response" to the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Palestinian group Hamas attacked Israel on Saturday evening, sparking a bloody battle between the two long-time enemies. According to Reuters, Hamas has killed at least 700 Israelis and abducted dozens, while retaliatory airstrikes on Hamas' base in Gaza have killed more than 400 people.

The weekend incursion, which occurred during a Jewish holiday, has led Israeli leadership to declare war, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising a "forceful and continued battle". Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh warned the conflict could spread to the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Speaking to media on Monday afternoon, Hipkins again stated "New Zealand's absolute condemnation of the Hamas attack". 

"I have had a conversation this morning with my Australian counterpart, Prime Minister Albanese, to compare notes. The New Zealand position and the Australian position are very aligned. We have agreed to keep in touch and make sure that we are aligning our efforts," he said.

"I have also spoken to the Minister of Foreign Affairs [Nanaia Mahuta] and asked her to make sure New Zealand is poised and ready to contribute to any international humanitarian response to the situation."

Hipkins said Hamas' attack was "regrettable" and Israel "is well within its rights to defend itself".

He said the current Government advice was for people not to travel to Gaza and there should only be essential travel to Israel.

The Prime Minister said consular support was available for the small number of New Zealanders in the region, though there is no suggestion any Kiwis have been caught up in the conflict. 

Mahuta's own response has come under fire. On Sunday morning, after many world leaders had already condemned Hamas' incursion, Mahuta tweeted a statement that failed to do so.

"Aotearoa New Zealand is deeply concerned at the outbreak of conflict between Israel and Gaza. We call for the immediate cessation of violence. The protection of all civilians, and upholding of international humanitarian law is essential."

The absence of an explicit condemnation from Mahuta raised eyebrows, with New Zealand First leader Winston Peters saying Mahuta saying she "didn't make a comment at all, really" and ACT leader David Seymour saying New Zealand "cannot rely on" Mahuta.

Hipkins later on Sunday put out a statement condemning Hamas' attack, and on Monday morning said Mahuta's initial comment could have been stronger. Mahuta did eventually put out a second statement saying "New Zealand utterly condemns the terrorist attacks led by Hamas".

Hipkins on Monday said the "source material" for Mahuta's tweet was a draft provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). He said no international leaders have raised concerns about Mahuta's comment. 

"Look, it was a tweet, I'm not going to lose a lot of sleep over it. I made it very clear what our position was yesterday."