7 Dec 2023

Foreign Minister Winston Peters to urge Parliament to call for 'steps towards' ceasefire in Gaza

11:03 am on 7 December 2023
Winston Peters

Foreign Minister Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Foreign Minister Winston Peters is expected, later today, to call on all parties involved in the Gaza conflict - including countries with influence in the region - to "take urgent steps towards establishing a ceasefire".

Parliament's agenda for this afternoon states that Peters will ask Parliament to express grave concern at the ongoing violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

He will also "unequivocally condemn" the Hamas terror attacks of 7 October and call for the release of all hostages.

Peters will also move that Parliament recognises Israel's right to defend itself acting in accordance with international law and that all civilians be protected from armed conflict.

He had released a statement last Friday saying New Zealand was calling for all countries with influence in the region to work urgently towards a long-term ceasefire, but today's move will set that down on the Parliamentary record and allow the political parties to debate it.

That statement also welcomed an extension to a pause in the fighting in Gaza, but hostilities resumed shortly after.

"We reiterate that all remaining hostages must be released. New Zealand continues to unequivocally condemn Hamas' terrorist attack of 7 October," it said.

"We have consistently supported the right of Israel to defend itself against Hamas' terrorist attacks, though we repeat our call for international humanitarian law to be observed by all sides and in all circumstances.

"Ultimately, there can be no military solution. We need to return to the Middle East Peace Process."

Peters also posted on social media on Monday confirming five New Zealand permanent residents had escaped Gaza through the Rafah crossing - to Egypt - overnight.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins had last month made a stronger call for an "immediate ceasefire" in the conflict while the coalition was still in negotiations to form a government.

Hipkins was, at the time, the caretaker prime minister - a role which sees the incumbent continue to do the job, but with very limited capacity to make decisions, particularly on new policies - but made the statement as Labour leader, saying it had become "untenable for him to remain silent".

National accused Hipkins then of "playing politics" over the matter, saying while the party supported a ceasefire the conditions for one "have not existed so far".

The Green Party, meanwhile, accused both of playing politics and urged an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, in line with what other countries, the UN Secretary General and the Red Cross had called for.

New Zealand had earlier supported a resolution at the UN backed by 120 countries calling for a humanitarian truce between Gaza and Israel.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday (US time) invoked a rarely used article of the UN charter described as the most powerful tool he has, to warn of the "severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian system in Gaza" and urged the Security Council to intervene.

It is the first time this power has been used since Guterres became Secretary-General in 2017.

Reuters, however, reported that the United States was opposed to a ceasefire between its ally Israel, and Hamas. The US is one of five countries with permanent veto power on the security council.

Guterres' letter highlighted the more than 1200 people "brutally killed" by Hamas militants on 7 October, including 33 children, with 130 people still held captive.

However, he also said civilians throughout Gaza faced grave danger, with over 15,000 reportedly killed, over 40 percent of them children.

UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian Territories Francesca Albanese, visiting New Zealand late last month, had called for multiple countries to intervene in the conflict, saying there was a disconnect between the atrocities committed in Gaza and the response from the Western world.

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