Oscar winner leads calls for Keir Starmer to halt UK arms sales to Israel

Riz Ahmed, Steve Coogan and Lena Headey among 100 artists, actors and singers to write to Labour leader

Riz Ahmed was among the public figures to sign a letter to Keir Starmer that opposes British companies supplying Israel with weapons. Getty Images
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Riz Ahmed is among 100 artists and celebrities in Britain who have urged Keir Starmer to halt arms sales to Israel if Labour wins the upcoming general election.

The Oscar-winning actor joined figures including director Asif Kapadia, singer Paloma Faith and actors Steve Coogan, Miriam Margolyes and Lena Headey in signing a letter calling on the party’s leader to end “UK complicity in war crimes in Gaza”.

“In just eight months, more than 35,000 people have been murdered by Israel. The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s top court, has ordered Israel to 'immediately halt its military offensive in Rafah',” the letter reads.

“Yet, Israel has disregarded this ruling and bombed a designated 'safe space' 60 times in 48 hours, resulting in the deaths of entire families.”

The artists point out that arrest warrants are being sought for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Continuing to sell arms to a country whose leader is accused of such grave violations of international law is morally reprehensible,” the letter adds.

The UK's Conservative government has so far resisted pressure to halt the licences to supply weapons amid concerns Israel could be in breach of international humanitarian law as the conflict in Gaza continues.

Deputy foreign secretary Andrew Mitchell has previously said UK companies provide an estimated 0.02 per cent of Israel's overall arms imports.

Answering media questions at a campaign event at the Fusilier Museum in Bury, Mr Starmer said: "It is for the government obviously to review the licences. They do it one by one.

"They have got legal advice. We've been pressing them to disclose that legal advice. And I still press them to disclose that legal advice.

"Obviously, if we're privileged to come in to power, we'll be able to see that advice or commission our own.

"The Rafah offensive should not go ahead. And that I think our government should follow the US lead on this in relation to arms sales and review the licences to see whether any of them would be or are being used in the Rafah offensive."

He said his "number one priority is to ensure we get a ceasefire" in the Israel-Gaza war.

A Labour government would have a "duty" to play a "full part" in resolving the conflict in the Middle East long-term, Mr Starmer added.

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He insisted human rights, international law and accountability "matters in Gaza" and added: "You wouldn't be human if you were not affected by the images that we've seen, the reports coming out of Gaza, the sheer number of people who have been killed – many of them women and children – and also the knowledge that hostages are still being held."

He said the best thing for both sides is to press for a ceasefire “immediately, straight away”, get the hostages out and get more aid into Gaza.

"And then that duty we will have if we come into power to play our full part in resolving the conflict in the Middle East for the long-term and that can only happen if we work with our allies, if we play our part on the world stage and clear the path for a two-state solution," Mr Starmer said.

"I'm not going to pretend that's going to be easy, I'm not going to pretend this isn't a very difficult starting point but that has to be, will be, the only way forward."

Updated: June 04, 2024, 8:06 AM