SYDNEY (Reuters) - New Zealand will deploy a six-member defence team to the Middle East as part of an international coalition to uphold maritime security in the Red Sea, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said on Tuesday.
The United States and Britain have been carrying out air strikes against the Iranian-allied Houthi group in Yemen, who have been targeting civilian ships in the Red Sea for weeks in what they say is a protest against Israel's military campaign in the Gaza Strip.
"Houthi attacks against commercial and naval shipping are illegal, unacceptable and profoundly destabilising," Luxon said during a media briefing.
"This deployment ... is a continuation of New Zealand's long history of defending freedom of navigation both in the Middle East and closer to home."
U.S. and British forces carried out a fresh round of strikes on Monday, targeting a Houthi underground storage site as well as missile and surveillance capabilities, the Pentagon said.
The Houthi attacks have disrupted global shipping and stoked fears of global inflation. They have also deepened concern that fallout from the Israel-Hamas war could destabilize the Middle East.
No New Zealand defence personnel will enter Yemen or get involved in any combat but will contribute to the collective self-defence of ships in the Middle East, in accordance with international law, Luxon said.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters said New Zealand's actions should not be conflated with its position on the Israel-Hamas conflict.
"Any suggestion our ongoing support for maritime security in the Middle East is connected to recent developments in Israel and the Gaza Strip, is wrong," Peters said.
New Zealand has been calling for a humanitarian truce, humanitarian pauses and the urgent need for further steps towards a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza.
(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney; editing by Miral Fahmy)