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Keir Starmer Facing Pressure Over Gaza Stance

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has met Muslim MPs amid tensions over the party’s stance on the Israel-Gaza war.

It comes as more than 150 Labour Muslim councillors have written to him urging the party leadership to call for an immediate ceasefire in the region.

Sir Keir has faced criticism since appearing to say Israel had the “right” to cut off water and energy to Gaza.

He later clarified that he meant only that the country had a right to self-defence.

The meeting – attended by one peer and around ten MPs, including at least one frontbencher – was described as “constructive” by a Labour source.

Khalid Mahmood, one of the MPs who attended, said the meeting was “very good” and individuals were able to raise issues they were concerned about with the leadership.

He added that the conflict should not be “a resigning issue”.

“When you are outside of [the party] you have no say, so I wouldn’t encourage anyone to resign,” he told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.

But one frontbencher, speaking anonymously to the BBC, said “of course there’s talk of resignations”.

Another MP, who is concerned Sir Keir has not called for a ceasefire, said: “I’d like to think [the Labour leader] was in listening mode.”

But they added they did not get the policy shift they were looking for.

At least 19 Labour councillors have already quit the party over Sir Keir’s stance on the war, including in Cambridge, Nottinghamshire, Gloucester, while some MPs have also been critical about the position the leadership has taken.

In Oxford, Labour has lost its majority on the council, after eight councillors resigned from the party.

On Wednesday, a letter signed by more than 150 Muslim Labour councillors representing areas including Birmingham, Leicester and Glasgow, called on the party’s leadership to back an immediate ceasefire in Gaza to protect civilians and allow access to humanitarian aid.

More than 30 Labour MPs, as well as former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who now sits as an independent, have also backed calls for a ceasefire.

One Labour frontbencher, who did not wish to be named, told the BBC: “In a week’s time the calls for a ceasefire will be deafening. I will be with them.”

Sir Keir has refused to call for a full ceasefire, instead saying Israel has the right to defend itself.

However, a spokesman for the Labour leader said he would back the government’s position in supporting “specific pauses” to get hostages out of Gaza and aid in.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour’s shadow equalities minister Yasmin Qureshi said people in Gaza were subject to “collective punishment” for “crimes they did not commit”.

She asked: “How many more innocent Palestinians must die before this prime minister calls for humanitarian ceasefire?”

A spokesman for Sir Keir did not comment on whether Ms Qureshi would be disciplined, with her position appearing to diverge from that of the Labour leader.

He added: “If I heard the question correctly… she was asking the prime minister what were the conditions that would lead the Prime Minister to support a ceasefire.”

In an interview with LBC on 11 October, Sir Keir was asked whether it was “appropriate” for Israel to cut off the supply of power and water to Gaza.

“I think that Israel does have that right,” he said. “Obviously everything should be done within international law, but I don’t want to step away from the core principles that Israel has a right to defend herself.”

A spokesman for the Labour leader later said he had only meant to say Israel had a general right to self-defence.

However, Oxford councillor Imogen Thomas – who quit the Labour Party last week – said it was “reprehensible” that Sir Keir was “ambiguous” on the right to water supply in Gaza and took more than a week to clarify his comments.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she wanted to see the Labour leader “standing up unequivocally against war crimes and for humanity”.

Comments from Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also appear to be at odds with the position of Sir Keir.

On Tuesday he accused Israel of a “clear breach” of international law in Gaza, telling the BBC there is “no justification for the withholding of essential supplies”.

Sir Keir has not explicitly said Israel has broken international law but has stressed it must be followed.

A spokesman for the Labour leader denied there was a rift with Mr Sarwar over the issue, adding: “Anas is entitled to his views on this.”

Source : BBC