Labour MPs call for Israeli 'restraint' in bombing of Gaza

Labour MPs call for Israeli 'restraint' in bombing of Gaza
A meeting for Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East painted a harrowing picture of conditions in the Gaza Strip, undergoing to fiercest bombardment in years.
4 min read
11 October, 2023
Labour's David Lammy is tipped to serve as the UK's next foreign minister [Getty/file photo]

LIVERPOOL: The UK's Shadow Foreign Minister David Lammy called on Israel to show restraint in its bombing of the Gaza Strip, following attacks on settlements in Israel on Saturday and the devastation of towns in the Palestinian enclave since.

Lammy told a Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East meeting at the party conference in Liverpool on Tuesday that although Israel had the right to defend itself, its response should be proportionate and within international law.

His comments came after more than 1,050 Palestinians, including dozens of children, were killed in four days of intense Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip.

"We support Israel's right to defend itself, rescue hostages, and protect its citizens but that right must be exercised proportionately and within international law, and prioritise the protection of civilians," Lammy said.

"Every civilian death - Israeli and Palestinian - is a tragedy and builds new barriers to lasting peace. Too many families have had their hearts broken."

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Lammy "utterly condemned" the attack by Hamas on Saturday when fighters broke through the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip, killing at least 1,200 people in surrounding Israeli settlements.

Israel launched a fierce aerial assault on Gaza on Saturday, tightening its siege on the Palestinian enclave - home to over two million people - around half of them children - and cutting off supplies of food, water, and electricity in the area.

"I think of the children of Gaza facing the reality of war in a place that was already bereft of hope," he told Labour members.

Israel has responded with hundreds of airstrikes, with whole neighbourhoods reportedly flattened in the bombardment.

Palestine and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), co-organiser of the Labour fringe meeting, painted a bleak picture of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, with medical supplies fast running out and hospitals filling up with injured and dead.

"The first principle of international humanitarian law is that it is never acceptable to target civilians, and I say that again very clearly today, it is never acceptable to target civilians," said Melanie Ward, CEO of MAP.

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After announcing a minute's silence for all those who have died, Labour MP Kim Leadbeater warned that recent events would only bring Palestinians and Israelis further away from peace.

"Many... thousands of lives have already been lost, and thousands more fear for their safety, and the safety of their families in Israel, in Gaza, and the West Bank," she said.

"We must respond to the humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes."

Both MPs reiterated Labour's commitment to a two-state solution saying that when in power the party would work toward peace in the Middle East.

Palestinian Ambassador Husam Zomlot was unable to join the meeting due to losing family members in the Israeli bombing of his hometown in Gaza.

Earlier that day, Labour leader Keir Starmer condemned the killings by Hamas but did not mention the ongoing civilian death toll in Gaza.

When asked by Times Radio if he will stand with Israel "whatever they do next", including the cutting of water supplies, Starmer responded that "we shouldn't be saying anything at this stage other than Israel has the right to defend itself".

Starmer batted off repeated questions from the journalist about whether he would give Israel a "blank cheque" in Gaza but said its actions must conform with international law.

Israel's announcement of a "complete siege" on the Palestinian enclave is a clear violation of international law, Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, pointed out.

"It is a matter of deep concern that Keir Starmer today suggested that Israel has the right to cut off electricity and food supplies to Gaza," he said.

"He is clearly ignorant of International law or indifferent to its application. Given his background as a lawyer, it is unlikely that the former is the case."

It follows criticism of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's perceived refusal to specifically condemn the killings by Hamas, saying "I don't support any attacks, therefore, I criticise them all".

Earlier, Corbyn tweeted: "The horrific attacks on civilians in Israel were deplorable. This cannot justify the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians, who are paying the price for a crime they did not commit."

Starmer will likely become the next UK prime minister in 2024 and has pledged to re-engage the UK with the world via foreign policy and trade.

He has been condemned by some Labour members for shifting the party away from the pro-Palestine vision of Corbyn, including opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Starmer says he sees himself as a friend of both Israelis and Palestinians.