Keir Starmer suggests it is acceptable for Israel to withhold power and water from Gaza

Opposition Labour leader says Israel has a 'right to defend itself' against Hamas

UK opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer. Bloomberg
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The leader of the UK’s Labour Party, Keir Starmer, has suggested it is acceptable to withhold power from the citizens of Gaza.

Mr Starmer was quick to condemn Hamas following its attack on Israel, which he described as the “cold-blooded” slaughter of hundreds of civilians.

The Israeli government has stopped the passage of food, water, fuel and medicine into Gaza, with sole remaining access to supplies from Egypt shuttering on Tuesday after air strikes near the border crossing.

In an interview with LBC radio, Mr Starmer said Israel must have the right to self-defence and that Hamas “bears responsibility”.

He was then asked by host Nick Ferrari: “A siege is appropriate? Cutting off water? Cutting off power? Sir Keir?”

Mr Starmer replied: “I think that Israel does have that right. It is an ongoing situation. Obviously everything should be done within international law but I don’t want to step away from the core principles that Israel has a right to defend herself and Hamas bears responsibility for the terrorist acts.”

The Labour leader's wife Victoria is Jewish, and he said they have family in Israel who are being affected by the events.

“We have extended family in Israel and this will be typical of many people in Israel, families, communities, they have a deep sense of shock at what is happening,” he said.

“Fear overladen with a real anxiety that somehow they felt that with the Israeli intelligence and security – they always know they are under threat – but they felt there was a protection there and there’s huge anxiety that on this occasion that didn’t seem to operate in the way that they wanted.”

Mr Starmer's comments angered some members within the party, including the Labour Muslim Network, which demanded that he retract his comments and urgently meet representatives of Muslim groups in Britain.

"Collective punishment is a war crime," a statement from the organisation said.

"Cutting off power and water to hospitals and life-serving facilities is a war crime. No government, no army and no country can ever be above international law."

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has travelled to Israel to show the UK’s “unwavering solidarity” in the wake of the Hamas attacks.

The Foreign Office said he was there to “demonstrate the UK’s unwavering solidarity with the Israeli people following Hamas’s terrorist attacks”.

“He will be meeting survivors of the attacks and senior Israeli leaders to outline UK support for Israel’s right to defend itself,” the Foreign Office said.

The Israeli government shared a video on X, formerly Twitter, showing Mr Cleverly running for cover as sirens sounded amid a rocket attack.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy has called on the government to help repatriate UK citizens in Israel who want to return home.

“While Israeli airspace has not officially been closed, most UK airlines have been forced to cancel their flights for the foreseeable future,” he said in a letter to Mr Cleverly.

“This is obviously deeply concerning for all those who are desperate to return to loved ones in the UK.

“Several countries have announced rescue flights to return their nationals who are stranded. Does the UK government have plans to do the same?”

British Airways suspended all flights to Israel on Thursday after turning back one of its flights as it neared Tel Aviv “over security concerns”.

Commenting on Mr Starmer saying that Israel has the right to besiege Gaza, Karla McLaren, Amnesty International UK’s head of government and political relations, said: “Cutting off civilians in Gaza from all water, food, electricity and fuel would be collective punishment, which is a war crime. All UK politicians should be making this clear.

“An intensified blockade on Gaza will cause unimaginable suffering to Palestinians living there, who cannot be blamed for Hamas’s crimes and have already endured a 16-year-long illegal blockade, which is one part of Israel’s system of apartheid against Palestinians.

“We continue to call on all parties to this conflict to respect international humanitarian law, and we need to see all those who’ve committed war crimes and other human rights violations being held to account.”

Meanwhile a Buckingham Palace representative said that King Charles III is “extremely concerned” about the situation.

“His thoughts and prayers are with all of those suffering, particularly those who have lost loved ones, but also those actively involved as we speak.

“His Majesty is appalled by and condemns the barbaric acts of terrorism in Israel.”

Updated: October 11, 2023, 6:26 PM