Starmer: Hamas sought to bring death upon their fellow Muslims in Gaza

Labour leader refuses to bow to pressure within his party for him to call for a ceasefire


LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 31: Labour Party leader Keir Starmer delivers his speech on October 31, 2023 in London, England. The Labour party leader has been under pressure to articulate a policy on the Israel-Hamas war to resolve tensions within his party. Some prominent Labour politicians have vocally supported a ceasefire, while others, including Starmer, have only called for a "humanitarian pause." (Photo by Peter Nicholls/Getty Images)

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has reiterated his insistence that now is not the time to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, saying that this would only invite future violence and nullify the search for peace.

In a major foreign policy speech at the Royal Institute of International Affairs headquarters at Chatham House in London, Starmer said he understood why many in his party – including members of the shadow cabinet – were urging him to make such a call.

But he said he was determined to resist it, despite the fact that some 60 Labour MPs and 250 councillors have stated they are in favour, along with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, London mayor Sadiq Khan and his Manchester counterpart Andy Burnham. 

Protesters greeted Starmer’s arrival and mobbed his car after the speech.

He began by condemning the attacks of October 7 in the strongest terms, saying “men, women, children, babies murdered, mutilated and tortured by the terrorists of Hamas… terrorism on a scale and brutality that few countries have ever experienced”.

But now, he went on, Israeli and Palestinian parents were now both “shattered by the ultimate grief”, while civilians in Gaza were experiencing “a humanitarian catastrophe on a previously unimaginable scale”.

He repeated previous calls he has made for “pauses” to allow supplies of water, food, medicine and fuel to enter Gaza via the border crossing with Egypt.

But he said that to demand a ceasefire now would be wrong, because it would “leave Hamas with the infrastructure and the capability to carry out the sort of attack we saw on 7 October” and “embolden them” to carry out future atrocities.

This in turn would endanger the long-term goal of a stable, negotiated peace: “The reality is that neither the long-term security of Israel nor long-term justice for Palestine can be delivered by bombs and bullets,” Starmer said. 

“Open-ended military action, action without a clear and desired political outcome is ultimately futile. This needs to begin now because a political agreement – however unlikely that seems today, however painful the first steps are to take – is the only way to resolve this conflict, once and for all.” 

He said that for too long, the world had treated the Israel – Palestinian conflict as “too difficult” to solve.

He commented: “We have continually paid lip service to a two-state solution, because it’s easier – convenient – perhaps to look away. To look away from Gaza, knowing it is controlled by those who want to kill Jews and wipe Israel off the map.”

However, “even in the darkest days – in fact especially in the darkest days – we have to keep alive the light of peace.” 

After he finished his speech, Starmer was pressed by reporters as to whether he would sack shadow ministers said to support a ceasfire. He declined to be drawn, but insisted that the party was united in its two main goals – to alleviate the present suffering and work for a long-term, two-state peace. 

Israel must, he went on, abide by international law, for “the right to self defence is not a blank cheque,” while “the supply of basic utilities like water, medicines, electricity and yes, fuel to civilians in Gaza cannot be blocked by Israel.”

In his view, humanitarian pauses in fighting were “the only credible approach that has any chance of achieving what we all want to see in Gaza - the urgent alleviation of Palestinian suffering".

Starmer said the October 7 attacks were a “plan written in blood” designed “not just to kill Jews, [but] to bring death upon their fellow Muslims in Gaza.” It also aimed “to provoke a wider regional conflict”.

He denounced the surge in both antisemitism and Islamophobia in Britain after the attacks, saying: “We cannot have a Britain where Jewish business are attacked, Jewish schools marked with red paint, Jewish families hiding who they are. 

“We cannot have a Britain where Muslim women feel scared to take public transport, Mosques are attacked, Palestinian restaurants receive death threats. 

This, he said, “isn’t our Britain”.

Asked about the chanting heard at street protests calling for Israel’s destruction and support for jihad, Starmer said “where there is evidence that offences have been committed, it is for the police to make arrests”.

However, he added, the government should offer greater “clarity” as to what amounted to unlawful hate speech or support for terrorism.

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