London mayor’s call for ceasefire in Gaza puts pressure on Labour leader

LONDON (Reuters) -London Mayor Sadiq Khan called on Friday for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, going a step beyond his Labour Party’s appeals for a humanitarian pause in fighting to allow aid into the Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip.

The apparent difference in stance between Khan and Labour leader Keir Starmer highlights disagreement and growing unrest within Britain’s main opposition party over its position on the conflict.

Khan, a senior voice within Labour and one of the UK’s most prominent Muslim politicians, said he backed Israel’s right to defend itself but that a military escalation could worsen a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“I join the international community in calling for a ceasefire. It would stop the killing and would allow vital aid supplies to reach those who need it in Gaza,” Khan said in a video posted on X, formerly Twitter.

A Labour spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Khan’s statement.

Labour, which polls indicate has a strong chance of forming Britain’s next government in an election expected in 2024, called this week for a pause in fighting, echoing similar appeals by the U.S., European Union and Britain’s Conservative government.

Such pauses are seen as a measure short of a full ceasefire, but critics say it does not go far enough.

Aid agencies have highlighted an increasingly desperate need for water, food and medical services in the Palestinian enclave.

Adding pressure on Starmer, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party echoed Khan’s call for a ceasefire.

“There have been too many innocent lives lost in Israel and Palestine. We need a ceasefire now,” Anas Sarwar, the first Muslim to lead a mainstream political party in the UK, said on X.

The equalities watchdog found in 2020 that Labour had serious failings how it handled persistent antisemitism complaints under its former leader Jeremy Corbyn, and Starmer has sought to rid the party of an anti-Jewish image since becoming leader that year.

However, some Labour politicians, especially Muslim lawmakers and local government officials, were angered by comments Starmer made earlier this month that were interpreted to mean he backed Israel’s right to cut off power and water to Gaza.

His spokesperson later clarified that he had meant Israel had a right to defend itself, but people in Gaza needed access to water and power.

One Labour lawmaker from northern England said he had received hundreds of emails in the last week from voters complaining about the way Starmer had handled the situation.

“The tone has been completely wrong. We look indifferent to innocent people being bombed in Gaza,” the lawmaker said.

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar and Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Mike Harrison)