Keir Starmer calls for ‘humanitarian pauses’ in Gaza amid Labour infighting after comments to LBC

25 October 2023, 11:06 | Updated: 25 October 2023, 23:57

Sir Keir Starmer said Israel had a right to withdraw water and electricity from Gaza on LBC last week
Sir Keir Starmer said Israel had a right to withdraw water and electricity from Gaza on LBC last week. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Sir Keir Starmer has called for "humanitarian pauses" in the Israel-Hamas war after meeting with Labour Muslim MPs in a bid to ease tensions over comments he made about the conflict to LBC.

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Speaking days after Hamas' recent terrorist attack on Israel, Sir Keir told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast that Israel "has the right" to withhold power and water from Gaza.

The Labour leader's comments sparked a furious backlash among those within the party, with several councillors quitting over his remarks.

That includes Amna Abdullatif, the first Arab Muslim woman elected to Manchester City Council, Russell Whiting in Colwick, Nottinghamshire, and Mona Ahmed, a Labour councillor in Kensington and Chelsea.

At least 19 Labour councillors have quit, including in Oxford, where the party has lost its majority on the council.

Now fears are growing in the Labour party that there could be further resignations over the conflict, according to The Times.

Up to four shadow ministers are on resignation watch, sources told the outlet, as the party works to keep them on side.

“There’s a real concern that if we lost a shadow minister, for example, that all of the others come under real pressure,” a senior member of Starmer’s team said.

Some MPs have been critical of their leader's comments, with more than 30 backing a call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

While some 150 Muslim Labour councillors wrote to Sir Keir to call for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza.

Sir Keir met with MPs in Westminster on Wednesday afternoon then released a statement in which he called for "humanitarian pauses" in the fighting.

Keir Starmer joins Nick Ferrari at Breakfast | Watch Again

He said it was "clear that the amount of aid and essential utilities getting into Gaza is completely insufficient" and said aid, fuel, water, electricity and medicines must be "ramped up".

"We welcome [US secretary of state] Blinken's comments last night and we support humanitarian pauses," he went on.

"In the long term there can only be a political solution to this crisis which is why we need to restart the hard work of talks for a two-state solution of a viable Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel."

He has previously tried to clarify his comments, insisting that he did not mean to imply that Israel would be justified to cut off power and water to Gaza, which is home to 2.2million civilians.

He stressed that Israel had a right to defend itself following Hamas' terror attack two weeks before.

Sir Keir also visited the South Wales Islamic Centre in Cardiff and met leaders from the Muslim community.

Read More: Israel 'has the right' to withhold power and water from Gaza, says Sir Keir Starmer

Read More: Sir Keir Starmer tries to clarify comments on Gaza-Israel siege after LBC interview sparks backlash

The Labour leader said he had been "deeply moved" during his visit, in which he heard "their pain and horror at the suffering of civilians in Gaza".

"I made clear it is not and has never been my view that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines. International law must be followed," he said in a statement after the meeting.

"I repeated our calls for all hostages to be released, more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, for the water and power to be switched back on, and a renewed focus on the two state solution".

Sir Keir Starmer has tried to clarify his comments on the Gaza-Israel conflict
Sir Keir Starmer has tried to clarify his comments on the Gaza-Israel conflict. Picture: Getty

But these comments also provoked a backlash, with the Muslim Council of Wales expressing its "dismay" at Sir Keir's comments.

"Our intention was to raise the concerns of the Muslim community around the suffering of Palestinians," a spokesperson said.

"There was a robust and frank conversation which reflected the sentiments Muslim communities are feeling at this time.

"We wish to stress Keir Starmer's social media post and images gravely misrepresented our congregants and the nature of the visit. We affirm, unequivocally, the need for a free Palestine."