Burnley and Pendle councillors call on Starmer to quit over Gaza stance

Sir Keir Starmer has come under fresh pressure over his stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Sir Keir Starmer has come under fresh pressure over his stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict, as two Labour council leaders called on him to resign.

The leaders of Burnley and Pendle Labour groups have called on Sir Keir to stand aside, as he continues to resist calls to back a ceasefire.

The Labour leader has faced dissent from his frontbench and grassroots party members over his stance on the escalating conflict.

Asjad Mahmood, a Pendle Borough councillor, said his party leader has “failed to listen” and called on him to “resign to allow someone to lead our party who has compassion and speaks out against injustice”.

Burnley council leader Afrasiab Anwar said a humanitarian pause is “not good enough”.

Sir Keir, however, said his focus on the Middle East is alleviating suffering, not calls from his own party to resign.

He told a speech in County Durham that humanitarian pause is the “only practical way” to achieve this.

Asked about calls from Labour council leaders for him to stand down, Sir Keir said: “My focus is on alleviating the awful suffering of all of those that are caught up in the situation that has developed over the last few weeks.

“Whatever the individual positions of members of my party, that is not my focus. My focus is in driving forward to make sure that all of us can take responsibility for ensuring that we do what we can to alleviate that situation.”

On calls for a ceasefire, he added: “To say to a sovereign country when 200 of its civilians are being held hostage that they must give up their right to self-defence, is not for me the correct position, and anyone who has watched the images in the last two or three days have seen precisely what Hamas is saying about this.”

Councillor Anwar said: “What we feel should be happening is that the leader of the opposition should in the least be applying pressure on the Prime Minister, on the Government, to call for a ceasefire and a release of all hostages.

He added: “The reason that a humanitarian pause is not good enough is because obviously the aid will get in but then the bombing, the attacks will start again. What we’re seeing is that these innocent civilians have got nowhere to escape to.

“The whole international community came out and said that Israel has the right to defend itself, just as any other nation does, but it’s got to be proportional and within international law.

“The number of lives that we’re seeing lost, the number of people, innocent civilians, who are losing their lives on both sides, we need to call it out and there needs to be a stop to it.”

A Labour spokesperson said the party "has unequivocally condemned the actions of the Hamas, and stressed the need to alleviate humanitarian suffering in Gaza".

Bolton South East MP Yasmin Qureshi has called for a ceasefire in Gaza. Credit: Press Association

“The Palestinian people are not Hamas, and they are suffering terribly. That’s why we support humanitarian pauses so that aid, fuel, water, electricity and medicines can urgently get to those who need it.

“We also have to recognise Israel was subject to a vile terrorist attack. Israel has a right and a duty to defend itself, rescue the hostages and stop Hamas from being able to carry out that sort of terrorist attack ever again.

“Keir Starmer has been clear that in the long term there can only be a political solution to this crisis which is why we need a two-state solution of a viable Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel.”

He has been battling to maintain frontbench discipline, with several members of his top team in revolt against his stance of calling for a humanitarian “pause” in the fighting in Gaza.

Sixteen frontbenchers have now either called for a ceasefire or shared others’ calls backing a ceasefire on social media, including Bolton South East MP Yasmin Qureshi, Jess Phillips and Imran Hussain.

Ms Phillips on Thursday said Israel’s military action against Hamas will only end in “death and destruction” and called for the negotiation of “peaceful political solutions”.

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