Sir Keir Starmer has said that a “humanitarian pause” in hostilities in Gaza would alleviate suffering in the territory as quickly as possible.
Addressing a question-and-answer audience which included sixth form students, business people and members of community groups in the West Midlands on Thursday, the Labour leader said the splits within his party over calls for a ceasefire stemmed from a common desire to end the loss of innocent life.
During the event at the offices of the Express & Star newspaper in Queen Street, Wolverhampton, Sir Keir was asked whether he would reconsider his position on others’ calls for a ceasefire in light of Bradford East MP Imran Hussain’s decision to quit his role as a shadow minister.
Sir Keir responded: “I have set out my position in relation to a ceasefire.
“There was obviously an awful terrorist attack on the 7th of October by Hamas, which nobody would support or could support, with the killing of men and women, children, babies, and the taking of 200 hostages who are still being held in tunnels in Gaza.
“So, to say to Israel – whilst its citizens are still being held – ‘you should have a ceasefire’ in my view is inconsistent with saying it’s their right to try and get their hostages back.
“If hostages were taken from this country, we would be doing everything we could to get them back.
“We wouldn’t take kindly to somebody saying ‘I am afraid we don’t think you should be doing that’.”
Sir Keir continued: “But then obviously Gaza itself is a humanitarian crisis. We’ve all seen terrible images.
“It’s been in crisis for a very, very long time, with innocent civilians, children, pregnant women caught up in this. Babies in incubators in hospitals which are running out of fuel.
“Nobody wants to see that.
“That’s why I have argued for a humanitarian pause, which would allow that fuel, that water, those medicines, that food, to get into people who desperately, desperately need it.
“That idea of a pause to allow aid in is supported by the US. It’s being talked about by wider countries. I think there is a prospect that that could happen.”
Addressing opposing views among Labour MP’s and party members, Sir Keir told the audience: “In terms of the differences in the Labour Party … I am not going to pretend they are not there.
“They all actually come from the same place.
“When we see those images of innocent people struggling, dying, in Gaza, we all want it to stop. That’s a human emotion.”
Adding that he had recently spoken to an aid worker who told him about a colleague who had to dig his 13-year-old niece’s body out of rubble, the Labour leader said: “That, as a dad, that hits you hard.
“In the end, my position is not determined by what any particular member of the Labour Party may think.
“It’s a matter of principle as to what can we do to alleviate the situation as quickly as possible in Gaza.”