UK Labour’s Starmer seeks to reunite party over Israel/Hamas conflict

LONDON (Reuters) – British Labour leader Keir Starmer on Tuesday rejected growing calls in his party for him to press for a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, saying he supported an immediate humanitarian pause to ease the suffering in Gaza.

In an attempt to ease the concerns of some of his lawmakers, officials and party members that Labour is losing votes among its Muslim supporters, Starmer said he backed international efforts to renew the political process in the region.

But he said a ceasefire at this stage would leave Hamas with the infrastructure and capability to carry out exactly the sort of attack it launched on Oct. 7 on Israel and that an immediate humanitarian pause was the “only credible approach”.

“While I understand calls for a ceasefire, at this stage I do not believe that is the correct position now,” he said in a speech at the Chatham House think tank, adding that such a move would freeze the situation.

In a hastily arranged speech, Starmer was keen to restore unity to the party after senior figures, such as its London and Manchester mayors and the Scottish Labour leader, called for a ceasefire to ease Gaza’s growing humanitarian crisis.

With Labour well ahead in the polls before an election expected next year, Starmer sees maintaining unity as key to securing a victory after the party suffered its worst defeat for 84 years in 2019 under left-wing veteran Jeremy Corbyn.

He has met lawmakers who feel his position on backing a humanitarian pause to help people in Gaza does not go far enough to ease their concerns, and on Tuesday, tried to make the case for the party to rally around his position.

He said what was needed now was an immediate pause to allow aid to be delivered and for people to seek safety, but that nations should be pushing for a resumption of peace and renewed talks for a two-state solution.

“My Labour Party will fight for that cause, we will work with international partners towards the recognition of a Palestinian state as part of a negotiated just and lasting peace,” he said.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)