Labour calls for immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza for first time

Labour has called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza for the first time since the outbreak of the conflict in October.

The move comes after days of party debate on how to vote in Parliament on an SNP motion calling for a ceasefire. Ten Labour frontbenchers quit in order to vote for the SNP’s previous call for a ceasefire in November.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said Labour had shifted because the situation in Gaza had “evolved. Mr Lammy said Labour was “mirroring the language” of the UN and the remaining members of the Five Eyes alliance – made up of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada’s intelligence services.

On Tuesday, Labour tabled an amendment, which for the first time uses the phrase “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, to the SNP’s ceasefire motion. Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer has for some time been calling for the fighting to stop “now”.

It means that in practical effect Labour’s position is now much closer to the SNP’s – although Labour’s amendment emphasises more than the SNP’s the role of Hamas as well as Israel in bringing about a lasting ceasefire.

A party spokesperson said: “Our amendment calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, in line with our allies. We need the hostages released and returned. We need the fighting to stop now. We need a massive humanitarian aid programme for Gaza. And any military action in Rafah cannot go ahead.

“We want the fighting to stop now. We also have to be clear on how we prevent the violence starting up again. There will be no lasting peace without a diplomatic process that delivers a two-state solution, with a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state. Israel declared war on Hamas after the group led an attack on communities inside Israel, killing around 1,200 people.

Since then, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, more than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed and 68,000 injured as Israel launched missiles and ground operations into the Gaza Strip in response.

Until now the Labour Party’s leadership has avoided using the phrase “immediate ceasefire”, which led to a clear split in the party in November when 56 of Labour’s 198 MPs backed an SNP motion.

Ten of those were frontbenchers who had to leave their positions for holding views against the party leadership.

Sir Keir had instead called for a “humanitarian pause” and an end of fighting “as soon as possible”. Whether or not those positions are substantively different, the crucial political fact is that this is designed to be seen as a slight hardening of Labour’s position towards Israel.

Clive Betts, who was one of the Labour MPs to defy the leadership in November, said Labour’s amendment was “a really firm, strong statement, which I think the party will unite behind”.

However, left-wing campaign group Momentum, said: “Scratch the surface of this amendment and it falls well short of what the moment requires: a clear call for an immediate ceasefire.

“By making its call for a ceasefire so conditional and caveated, the Labour leadership is giving cover for Israel’s brutal war to continue.”

Mr Lammy told the BBC that Labour’s amendment “reflects the complexity of the situation” and the desire for “a lasting humanitarian ceasefire”.

He contrasted this with the SNP motion, which he said “feels unbalanced”. SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn welcomed what he described as a “long-overdue U-turn” by Sir Keir.

He said the Labour leader was “forced into this position through public pressure and, in particular, by the SNP”. Mr Flynn also called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to back an immediate ceasefire.

This week, Sir Keir has come under increasing pressure after the Scottish Labour party passed a motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Labour’s position on Gaza has also come under scrutiny in the upcoming Rochdale by-election, where the party dropped its parliamentary candidate over antisemitic comments he apparently made during a discussion about the conflict.

The SNP motion calls for an “immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel” as the “only way to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians”.

If passed, the SNP’s opposition day motion is not binding on the government. Instead, they typically express opposition MPs’ position on a particular issue.

The government has also put forward its own amendment, calling for “an immediate humanitarian pause” and supporting moves “towards a permanent sustainable ceasefire”.

The move threatens to expose Labour splits over the issue, as it makes it less likely the Commons Speaker will choose the Labour amendment for debate on Wednesday.

If this happened it would leave Labour MPs with the choice of voting for the government’s position, which does not go as far as calling for an immediate ceasefire, or the SNP’s stance.

If – as seems likely – Labour were to call for its MPs to abstain on the SNP motion, Mr Lammy made clear “collective responsibility” would apply, meaning shadow ministers who vote for it would be expected to resign. Party sources are not anticipating further resignations – but some backbench Labour MPs could still rebel.

Source: eNCA

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