'Unclear what ceasefire means for hostages', Labour frontbencher says, after top party figures call for fighting to end

29 October 2023, 10:25 | Updated: 29 October 2023, 11:08

Peter Kyle
Peter Kyle. Picture: LBC/Getty

By Kit Heren

A Labour shadow minister has said that it's "unclear" what a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas would mean for the fate of the hostages being held in Gaza.

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Shadow science minister Peter Kyle insisted that his party's leadership remained in "lockstep" with the US and other Western powers in calling for "humanitarian pauses" to the war to led into Gaza - despite Sadiq Khan, Jess Phillips and others demanding a ceasefire.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer earlier reiterated that Israel has a right to defend itself after Hamas' terror attacks on October 7, though backed 'humanitarian pauses' to allow aid into the Gaza strip.

His reluctance to call for a ceasefire, as well as comments made on LBC about Israel's right to withhold water and electricity, has caused a backlash among some Labour politicians.

That includes a number of shadow ministers, including loyalist Jess Phillips, who retweeted a statement from UN Chief Antonio Guterres, in which he reiterated calls for a ceasefire.

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Labour frontbencher Peter Kyle on his party's stance on a ceasefire

But Mr Kyle told LBC's Paul Brand on Sunday: "The challenge with what some people are calling for with a ceasefire is that it's very poorly understood what that would mean".

He added: "Right now there are 200 Israeli citizens, including British citizens... who are being held captive by Hamas."

Mr Kyle said: "What we what we're calling for is a pause for humanitarian activity. I think we all share the same concern, deep, deep concern and anxiety about what's unfolding there ever since the terrorist attacks on Israel... just a few short weeks ago.

"But when you actually look at the need right now, today, in this moment, what people in Gaza need, what those innocent civilians need, is they need water, they need food, they need medic medical equipment, and of course, the fuel to drive any generators and so forth."

Mr Kyle said that Labour had "very, very deep sympathies for what is happening on the ground," which he described as a "tragedy".

But he said that the party is "in absolute lockstep with our international partners from the US or the EU to Australia and others in making sure that we can actually try and deliver what is deliverable, conceivably deliverable, and that is creating the space for humanitarian activity to unfold."

Khan Younis in southern Gaza
Khan Younis in southern Gaza on Sunday. Picture: Getty

He added: "We need to make sure we can move forward as quickly as we can, we need to not forget that there is a potential endpoint here, which could be a two state solution into the long term."

Others who have gone against the party stance by speaking out in favour of a ceasefire include Andy Burnham, the Manchester mayor, and Anas Sarwar, the party’s Scottish leader.

Israel has stepped up its activity in Gaza this weekend, claiming to have hit 450 Hamas positions from the air on Saturday. Troops remain in Gaza, with Benjamin Netanyahu describing the conflict as Israel's second war of independence.

But fears are growing for the fate of Palestinians, who have suffered thousands of deaths amid intense Israeli bombardment.

It is understood Mr Khan warned the Labour leader he would be putting out a video calling for a ceasefire in Gaza the night before it was posted on Twitter, but Sir Keir's pleas were ignored, the Times reports.

Mr Khan was the most senior Labour figure to call directly for a ceasefire in the current conflict, which started on October 7 with a massacre of Israeli civilians by Hamas.

Statements by Mr Burnham and Mr Khan then followed.

Naz Shah and Imran Hussain, who represent seats in Bradford; Yasmin Qureshi, the shadow women and equalities minister, and Afzal Khan, a shadow exports minister, have also called for a ceasefire.

Meanwhile, 20 Labour councillors have resigned, including in Oxford, causing the party to lose control of the council, after comments made by Sir Keir on LBC.

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.

Labour party leader, Sir Keir Starmer is interviewed for LBC during a media round on the morning of the final day of the Labour party conference on October 11
Labour party leader, Sir Keir Starmer is interviewed for LBC during a media round on the morning of the final day of the Labour party conference on October 11. Picture: Getty

In a statement published on Twitter today along with a video, the mayor of London said: "Thousands of innocent civilians have already been killed in Israel and Gaza.

"With the humanitarian crisis set to deteriorate even further, I'm calling for a ceasefire."

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar joined him, saying: "We are all so desperate for peace and are desperate to see the end of violence.

"And that is why we need to see the immediate release of hostages, immediate access to humanitarian supplies, food, medicine, electricity, water, into Gaza...

"The immediate cessation of violence, with an end of rocket fire into and out of Gaza. And let me be clear, that means a ceasefire right now."

And Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said in a joint statement that while Israel has a right to defend itself, there was concern about Palestinian casualties.

"Given the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Gaza, the mayor, deputy mayor and 10 leaders of Greater Manchester join the growing international calls for a ceasefire by all sides and for the hostages to be released unharmed," he said.

Sir Keir used the phrase "humanitarian pauses" as he described what he thinks should be the way forward in the Israel-Hamas war.

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 onside.

“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 Sir Keir'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.

About 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

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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."