Sir Keir Starmer meets Muslim MPs as tensions reignite over Israel-Hamas war stance after mosque visit

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has met Muslim MPs and peers amid reignited tensions in the party over his response to the war between Israel and Hamas.

His spokesperson said the leader "recognises this is a very difficult time for a lot of people [and] there is strong feeling on all sides," adding Sir Keir "thinks it is right to sit down and hear views".

The party leader has faced criticism in recent weeks after he appeared to suggest in an LBC interview that Israel's decision to withhold water and power from Gaza was proportionate and justified.

As a result, 23 Labour councillors quit the party.

But despite seeking to clarify his remarks, Sir Keir is now facing a fresh row over his visit to a mosque on Sunday.

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Members of the South Wales Islamic Centre claimed the leader had "gravely misrepresented our congregants and the nature of the visit" in tweets he sent out afterwards, which it said "put [the centre] and the wider Muslim community into disrepute".

One party source told Sky News there had been a "pattern of behaviour" from the leadership that had been "deeply insensitive" to the Muslim community and left some MPs and staff "in tears".

But a Labour Party spokesperson said MPs and councillors had been given the chance to talk to Sir Keir, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy and shadow international development secretary Lisa Nandy throughout, adding: "On the humanitarian crisis, all Keir's statements in the [Commons] have included our calls for water and fuel to be switched back on by Israel."

The meeting with MPs happened in Westminster this afternoon, when Sir Keir was joined by his deputy leader, Angela Rayner, and his spokesperson confirmed both front and backbench MPs were present.

Ahead of the meeting, the Labour Muslim Councillors Network wrote a letter to the leadership - signed by over 150 Muslim councillors - urging the party to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza "and an end to the humanitarian disaster".

The letter said: "Every day we fail to call on the government and the international community to push for cessation of hostilities, Gazan children and hundreds of innocent men and women pay the price.

"As a party that bases its principles on fairness and justice, we can not sit idly by as Palestinians face collective punishment."

How did the row begin?

In the aftermath of Hamas's terror attack on 7 October, the Labour leader responded with full-throated support for Israel and stayed close to the government's position of standing with the country.

In an interview with LBC's Nick Ferrari, which has been widely shared on social media, he was asked what a "proportionate" response would look like to the attacks.

Sir Keir replied that responsibility "lies with Hamas" and that Israel "has the right to defend herself".

The presenter interjected, asking: "A siege is appropriate? Cutting off power, cutting off water?"

The Labour leader responded: "I think that Israel does have that right. It is an ongoing situation."

He added: "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."

A week later, and after anger from his backbenches and local councillors over the remarks, Sir Keir denied he had suggested withholding supplies was appropriate, saying: "I know that LBC clip has been widely shared and caused real concern and distress in some Muslim communities so let me be clear about what I was saying and what I wasn't saying.

"I was saying that Israel has the right to self-defence, and when I said that right I meant it was that right to self-defence. I was not saying that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines."

He claimed he had been "leading the charge calling for that humanitarian aid to come in", adding: "So I was saying yes, [Israel has] the right to self-defence - that right they do have - but not the right to withhold that humanitarian aid that needs to get in. It is now absolutely urgent."

What happened with the mosque visit?

After his attempts to calm the situation, Sir Keir visited a mosque in South Wales and posted on X - formally known as Twitter - that he had "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".

But the visit and the post angered some of the mosque congregants.

On Tuesday night, the centre's representatives posted their own statement, apologising for "the hurt and confusion" hosting the event had caused, and saying they "fully understand and share the anger many in the Muslim community are feeling, both here in Wales and across the UK".

The statement said the mosque had "a rich tradition of positive engagement with politicians and community leaders", and the "intention was to raise the concerns of the Muslim community around the suffering of Palestinians".

They added: "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.

"We express our dismay at Keir Starmer's social media post... and we wish to stress [his] 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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Fears policy will 'alienate Muslim community'

Sources questioned the Labour leader's decision to mention hostages at the mosque, with one saying: "People have been killed and we are calling for hostages to be released. They are nothing to do with it.

"Our policy seems to be to alienate the Muslim community."

A Labour MP also told Sky News: "Wouldn't it have been better to say you spoke with congregants and acknowledged the grief and fear many had, stood with them against rising Islamophobia and gave a commitment that we would not stand for the situation in Israel and Gaza being used to divide communities here?

"I think he just needs some lessons in less robotic and awkward comms from Sadiq [Khan], [Andy] Burnham and [Anas] Sarwar, who seem to do better in empathy and capturing the mood better.

"You don't need to get all the lines out in every tweet.

"How was that centre going to help release hostages? It was a pointless and irrelevant thing to add."

The MP called on the Labour leader to apologise for the initial LBC interview - while also backing a ceasefire or "humanitarian pause".

A number of Labour MPs have begun making calls for a ceasefire, including chair of the International Development Committee, Sarah Champion, Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy, and former shadow cabinet minister Rosena Allin-Khan, as well as both the SNP and Liberal Democrats.

The United Nations, the Palestinians and many other countries made the request at a high-level UN meeting on Tuesday, but Israel's foreign minister said it was the country's "right to destroy Hamas".

However, the government and the Labour Party have not yet called for a ceasefire.