Starmer backs 'humanitarian pause' in Gaza amid backlash but resists calling for ceasefire

ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports. Words by Westminster Producer Lewis Denison and Political Correspondent Harry Horton

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has backed calls for a "humanitarian pause" in Gaza but has resisted intense pressure from his own MPs and councillors to demand an Israeli ceasefire.

Support for his stance on the crisis in Gaza has been dwindling within the Labour Party since suggesting he approved Israel's move to cut off Gaza's supplies following a deadly attack by Hamas on October 7.

He sought to clarify those comments, denying he supported the cutting off of supplies, but that did not ease concerns and he was forced to call a meeting with his Muslim MPs on Wednesday to rescue their support.

It was a desperate move by Starmer to see off a backlash after a number of Labour MPs were shown polling which suggests a "complete collapse in support" among Muslim voters since his comments - there had been talk of frontbench shadow cabinet members quitting over the debacle.

Speaking on Peston, Labour MP Rosena Allin-Khan said Starmer "did really listen" and she "felt that he left that meeting understanding the strength of feeling, not just in the Muslim community, but across the wider country."

She said Starmer "did change his language somewhat following the meeting… We expressed the fact that we would like there to be a ceasefire, and he has moved towards a humanitarian pause."

ITV News was unable to find any Labour MPs willing to publicly criticise their leader following the meeting, suggesting it had quelled any rebellion for now.

His support for a pause of fighting in the region was revealed in a tweet after he received a letter from around 250 Muslim Labour councillors urging him to call for a ceasefire.

Asked about calls for a complete ceasefire, his spokesman said: "We fully recognise that Israel has a right to defend itself, to go after the hostages and to act in accordance with humanitarian law in that process.

"What we have also said is that we need to ensure that there is protection of civilian life, that we ensure all necessary aid supplies can get into Gaza and reach people who need them, and that continues to be our position."

It is not yet clear whether the Labour Muslim Councillors' Network - which coordinated the letter - is content with this position.

Several of his councillors quit the party over his controversial comments on supplies for Gaza.

The backlash was sparked by an interview with LBC in which Sir Keir was asked by presenter Nick Ferrari if "a siege is appropriate? Cutting off power, cutting off water?"

Sir Keir replied: "I think that Israel does have that right. It is an ongoing situation."

He later rowed back on those comments, telling broadcasters he "was saying Israel had the right to self-defence... I was not saying Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines".

One Labour MP has told ITV News that "it’s been painful, really, really painful” since the leader made those comments, and another with large Muslim population said they’d had more than 1,000 emails on the subject.

“If he doesn’t shift his position today we are in trouble”, one shadow minister told ITV News ahead of the meeting with around 12 Labour parliamentarians.

One shadow minister left the meeting looking visibly angry.

There were also several non-Muslim members of the party unhappy about not being invited to the meeting, telling ITV News their inboxes have been filled with emails from upset constituents.

More than 50 Labour MPs met following the meeting to discuss the situation.

The Labour leader has struggled to maintain a position on the Gaza crisis, with supporters on both sides urging him to condemn the other - however a Labour source has insisted to ITV News that this is a cross-party issue.

Rishi Sunak has also been under pressure to call for a ceasefire and has so far also resisted.

In the letter to Sir Keir, the Labour Muslim Councillors Network said: “As Labour councillors elected to serve our constituents, the message we have been hearing repeatedly over the past 2 weeks is simple, people just want an end to the bloodshed and the loss of innocent life.

"Therefore, as Labour Party councillors, as members, and as members of the Muslim community we urge the Labour Party to urgently adopt a position of calling for an immediate ceasefire."

Sir Keir met Muslim leaders in Wales over the weekend in a bid to win their support but that has backfired dramatically, with the group he met saying he had “gravely misrepresented” their meeting in a post on social media.

Why is Sir Keir Starmer facing backlash after he visited an Islamic Centre in Wales?

The South Wales Islamic Centre released a statement late on Tuesday saying it wanted to apologise for the “hurt and confusion” caused by hosting Sir Keir.

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, the Labour leader said: “I was grateful to hear from the Muslim community of the South Wales Islamic Centre.

“I repeated our calls for all hostages to be released, more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, for the water and power to be switched back on, and a renewed focus on the two state solution.”

He said he was “questioned by members” and “made clear it is not and has never been my view that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines. International law must be followed”.

The centre’s statement said: “We wish to stress Keir Starmer’s social media post and images gravely misrepresented our congregants and the nature of the visit.

“We affirm, unequivocally, the need for a free Palestine. We implore all those with political authority to uphold international law, and to end the occupation of Palestine.”

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The centre said it wanted to “apologise for the hurt and confusion that our hosting of this visit has caused”.

It added: “Our intention was to raise the concerns of the Muslim community around the suffering if Palestinians, and so we hosted an event initially with local representatives on the issue, and the knowledge of Keir Starmer’s attendance was given at short notice.

“There was a robust and frank conversation which reflected the sentiments Muslim communities are feeling at this time. Members of the community directly challenged Keir on his statements made on the Israeli Government’s right to cut food, electricity and water to Gaza, warranting war crimes as well as his failure to call for an immediate ceasefire.”