Israel-Gaza: Winston Peters speaking with Israeli Government over Rafah as Christopher Luxon expresses concern

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters is speaking directly with the Israeli Government to express New Zealand's concern "that they do not proceed with operations in Rafah", according to the Prime Minister.

Israel on Monday conducted a special forces operation to free two Israeli hostages in the southern Gazan city of Rafah as it also hit the city with air strikes that Reuters reported the local health agency said killed 37 people.  

Asked at his post-Cabinet press conference for his response to Israel's air strikes against Rafah, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said he hadn't yet been briefed on the latest developments due to being in other engagements, but he was concerned about Israel potentially going into Rafah "without ensuring the safety and support of civilians there".  

"Palestinian civilians cannot pay the price of Israel trying to defeat Hamas. There are 1.5 million Palestinians sheltering in Rafah at the moment. We are extremely concerned about that," he said.  

"Our preference is that there would be a complete pause in hostilities, as you well know. We want to see a sustainable ceasefire emerge in the Middle East. For that to happen, there has to be a pause, there has to be humanitarian assistance to get into there. We are supporting all the efforts of the others parties around in the region to drive towards that."  

He said that Peters was talking with the Israeli Government "to convey that position very clearly that our concern is that they do not proceed with operations in Rafah".

Peters later posted on X saying he had met Israel's Ambassador to New Zealand Ran Yaakoby to discuss the October 7 attack by Hamas, "developments on the ground in Israel & Gaza since", "how a lasting, peaceful outcome to the conflict might be found", and the New Zealand-Israel relationship.

Luxon wouldn't go as far as to explicitly condemn Israel, but said New Zealand wanted to see "proportionate, controlled, targeted, precise action from Israel". 

"Fail to do so I think undermines its long-term security in terms of what it does within the region and causing resentment clearly, and not getting us any closer to a peaceful diplomatic solution to the Middle East peace process.  

"The reality is both sides need to be able to get around the table and actually find a pathway to sustainable ceasefire. Israel has huge obligations on it, I think morally, but also legally around making sure that it protects civilians and acts well within international law and likewise, Hamas has huge responsibilities to release hostages as well."  

Peters on Sunday posted on X that New Zealand was "extremely concerned" about "indications that Israel is planning a ground offensive into Rafah".  

US President Joe Biden earlier said Israel shouldn't launch an operation in Rafah without a plan to ensure the safety of those sheltering there.  

Reuters said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said that it had ordered the military to develop a plan to evacuate Rafah and destroy four Hamas battalions it said were deployed there.