Israel declares ‘time for war’ amid global pressure for pause in fighting

The UK’s political parties are grappling with calls for a ceasefire in Gaza from rebellious MPs.

David Lynch
Tuesday 31 October 2023 08:57 GMT
Protesters during a pro-Palestine march organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign in central London. Picture date: Saturday October 28, 2023.
Protesters during a pro-Palestine march organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign in central London. Picture date: Saturday October 28, 2023. (PA Wire)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out a ceasefire in Gaza, declaring a “time for war” amid continuing calls for a humanitarian pause in the conflict from the UK and other allies.

UK political leaders have called for the pause in the fighting to allow Palestinians to flee Gaza and for aid to be distributed.

Similar appeals have been made by the USA and other countries, but Mr Netanyahu told Israel’s allies it would not heed calls for ceasefire.

“The Bible says that there is a time for peace and a time for war. This is a time for war,” he said in a press conference, claiming that laying down arms would be akin to America doing the same after the 9/11 attacks.

Israel has celebrated the release of a soldier held captive by Hamas militants after troops and tanks pushed deeper into Gaza.

But the UN is warning that continued air strikes are hitting closer to hospitals, where tens of thousands of Palestinians have sought shelter alongside thousands of wounded.

Humanitarian pauses typically last for hours or days, with the aim of providing aid and support or allowing people to leave a region, rather than achieving long-term political solutions, according to the United Nations.

Ceasefires are intended to be long-term and usually seek to allow parties to engage in talks, including the possibility of reaching a permanent political settlement.

In the UK, both Labour and the Conservatives have grappled with rebellious MPs who have called for a full cessation of hostilities, instead voicing support for a humanitarian pause.

Roads minister Richard Holden renewed the Government’s appeal for a break in the conflict to get aid in as he appeared on Tuesday’s morning media round.

But he also reiterated support for Israel, saying he had not seen anything to suggest the country was not acting in accordance with the Geneva Conventions in its fightback against Hamas.

“On a personal level I’m not an international lawyer but I’ve not seen anything which really says that it isn’t (acting in accordance with the Geneva Conventions),” he told Sky News.

“I want Israel to respond in a sensible way to this … I think it’s very difficult for Israel at the same time, who are fighting essentially a terrorist organisation who have no rules.”

Speaking to LBC, Mr Holden said: “You cannot allow a terrorist organisation to go into somewhere and kill hundreds, potentially more than that in terms of people, take hostages indiscriminately, and then there to be no response to that terrorist organisation.

“People wouldn’t have called for that after 9/11. People understood that, for example, the US had a right to defend itself. Nobody said sit down with Osama bin Laden and put down your arms.”

Conservative MP Paul Bristow was sacked from his job as a ministerial aide at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology after urging Rishi Sunak to back a full ceasefire.

The Peterborough MP said he understood the Prime Minister’s decision to sack him, adding he was better placed to “talk openly about an issue so many of my constituents care deeply about” from the backbenches.

Shadow ministers Yasmin Qureshi, Jess Phillips and Imran Hussain are among the Labour frontbench figures who have joined calls for an end to the fighting.

But the party is not likely to sack its internal critics from frontbench roles and will instead “continue engaging” with them, shadow science secretary Peter Kyle said on Sunday.

Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald has been suspended by Labour, after what a party spokesman said were “deeply offensive” remarks made at a speech during a pro-Palestine rally on the weekend.

Mr McDonald said his reference to the phrase “between the river and the sea” was part of a “heartfelt plea” for peace in the region.

A slogan used by pro-Palestinian demonstrators, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, has been described as antisemitic by critics, with Home Secretary Suella Braverman claiming it is “widely understood” to call for the destruction of Israel.

Ms Braverman, meanwhile, said the hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets in support of Palestine over the weekend were taking part in “hate marches”.

She urged police officers to take a “zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism” after attending an emergency Cobra meeting chaired by the Prime Minister.

Touring broadcast studios on Tuesday, Mr Holden would not say whether he agreed with the Home Secretary’s description of the marches but said that some of those in attendance had been promoting Hamas.

“One, frankly, is too many when it comes to people supporting proscribed terrorist organisations,” he told LBC.

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