New UK PM Demands Gaza Ceasefire During Netanyahu Talks

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UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer has told his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu that there must be a ceasefire in Gaza, while warning him to act with “caution” over escalating tensions with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Starmer “said the situation on (the) northern border of Israel (with Lebanon) was very concerning, and it was crucial all parties acted with caution,” a spokesman for 10 Downing Street said.

The Times reported that Starmer reiterated his commitment to “continuing the UK and Israel’s vital co-operation to deter malign threats,” but there is a “clear and urgent need for a ceasefire in Gaza, the return of hostages and an immediate increase in the volume of humanitarian aid reaching civilians.”

The Guardian reported that he had impressed upon Netanyahu “that it was also important to ensure the long-term conditions for a two-state solution were in place, including ensuring the Palestinian Authority had the financial means to operate effectively.”

It comes amid reports that the UK’s new Labour government is set to drop a bid brought by its Conservative predecessor to delay an International Criminal Court decision on whether to bring charges against Netanyahu over alleged war crimes in Gaza.

The Conservatives had claimed that neither the court nor any Palestinian body have jurisdiction over Israeli citizens, despite a 2021 ICC decision that it did have power to prosecute violations of the Rome Statute in Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Labour officials, however, briefed The Guardian that the new government would not uphold the challenge.

Starmer also spoke to PA President Mahmoud Abbas as part of a series of introductory conversations after the former’s general election victory on Thursday, in which he stated his support for the “undeniable right” of the Palestinian people to have a state of their own.

He said his government would look to increase financial assistance to the PA and pressure Israel to withdraw fully from Gaza.

The UK government’s spokesman said: “Discussing the importance of reform, and ensuring international legitimacy for Palestine, the prime minister said that his longstanding policy on recognition to contribute to a peace process had not changed, and it was the undeniable right of Palestinians.”

Labour had pledged in its manifesto to take immediate action on UK recognition of a Palestinian state after the party lost support over its stance on Gaza during Britain’s regional elections in May.

Starmer had said Israel had a right to defend itself following the October 7 Hamas attack, but has subsequently softened his position.

Despite this shift, Labour still lost five seats in Thursday’s election to pro-Palestine independent candidates.

Foreign Secretary David Lammy, meanwhile, said he will look at restoring funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, as well as reviewing issues including UK arms sales to Israel.

The UK suspended funding for UNRWA after Israel claimed that staff members had participated in the October 7 attack.

Most other countries that took similar action have since restarted their funding, but the previous UK government said it would await the outcome of a UN investigation before taking a decision.

Lammy said: “We did raise issues about the funding … and real concerns that (we) did not want the situation where the UK was contributing to tremendous hardship already in Gaza.”

On arms sales, he added: “I made the solemn undertaking in parliament that I would look at the legal assessments, and I will begin that process, of course, as soon as I’m able to. I expect that to begin next week as I sit down with officials.”

Lammy continued: “I have been crystal clear on the international humanitarian law. There will be no resiling from that, because it’s important that we are all seen to uphold the rules-based order at a time particularly when authoritarian states are discarding it. It’s on that basis that I enter into this role and I take that very, very seriously.”

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