Palestinians checking the destruction in the aftermath of an Israeli strike on the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip (Photo: AFP via Getty)
November 2, 2023 9:08 am(Updated 11:28 am)
Senior Labour figures have continued to ramp up pressure on Sir Keir Starmer to push for an end to the violence in Gaza and Israel,
with ex-shadow minister Alex Sobel joining calls to stop the conflict and push for peace.
Writing exclusively in i, Mr Sobel said time was “frighteningly short” to save lives of Israeli hostages and innocent civilians in Gaza and argued fighting must stop to get victims out and aid in.
The calls come after more than a dozen Labour frontbenchers and a third of the party’s MPs backed a ceasefire or “cessation of hostilities”.
The Labour leadership has called instead for a ‘humanitarian pause’ to allow aid in.
Mr Sobel also said the UK left should sup
port a peace summit in the region in the coming months.
Sir Keir has faced mounting criticism from within the ranks of his own party for not taking a firmer stance and calling for an immediate ceasefire to protect civilians.
Mr Sobel, who is of Jewish descent, condemned the “horrific murder” of Israelis and those of other nationalities by Hamas and “the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Gaza”.
He put pressure on the Labour leader to toughen up calls for violence to stop by backing the UN resolution calling for a humanitarian truce and ceasefire.
The “immediate task” is ensuring the release of those held hostage by Hamas, Mr Sobel said, and ensure access to food, water, medicines, electricity and fuel for civilians in Gaza – as well ensuring homes and refugee camps are not targeted.
His comments came after Israel launched fresh
air strikes targeting the Jabalia refugee camp in an attempt, the government said, to target a Hamas commander.
Responding to the bombing, shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy said attacks on refugee camps was “morally wrong” and said Israel must explain “how this conforms to international law”.
But there is increasing concern among Labour figures over the party’s failure to demand an end to the violence.
In his piece, Mr Sobel said the “movement of aid and release of hostages both require a cessation of hostilities”.
The MP also urged Labour, and the UK left, to join calls – led by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez – for a peace conference in six months on the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
And he called for support of the UN resolution backing an “immediate and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities”, which the UK abstained on.
“The private and public discussions are ongoing but for those in Gaza – whether in the tunnels or the refugee camps – time is frighteningly short to save their lives,” he said.
Sir Keir faced down party rebels who reject his policy on the Israel-Hamas conflict in a speech on Tuesday. He argued his support for a “humanitarian pause” to allow aid into the Gaza Strip was the “only credible approach”.
Sources close to the Labour leader said mounting concern and anger across the party had calmed in response to his speech but that work is still ongoing to reassure senior Labour figures.
But on Wednesday, Tan Dhesi – another shadow minister – responded to news of the bombing of the refugee camp calling for an urgent “cessation of hostilities”.
And Labour backbencher and Jewish MP Fabian Hamilton tweeted that it was the right time to call for a ceasefire.
Now 16 Labour frontbenchers have stepped up calls for an end to violence, and around 70 MPs, putting pressure on Sir Keir to assert his authority after he said he take “collective responsibility” seriously.
It is understood the Labour leader does not intend to sack junior frontbenchers who divert from the party line but would take action against shadow Cabinet members.