Israel-Palestine war: Keir Starmer supports Israel's 'right' to cut Gaza's water and power
The leader of the UK's opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, on Wednesday declared his backing for what he described as Israel's "right" to totally cut power and water supplies to Palestinians in Gaza.
Speaking to British broadcaster LBC, Starmer, the frontrunner to win the next general election, placed responsibility for the situation in Israel and Palestine entirely on Hamas.
His comments came as Israel unleashed what Gaza residents have described as the most intense bombing campaign in recent memory, with at least 1,055 Palestinians killed so far this week.
The devastation comes after Palestinian fighters mounted the deadliest attack on Israel in decades on Saturday, killing over 1,200 people and taking dozens of people hostage in a multi-pronged offensive.
During the interview with LBC's Nick Ferrari on Wednesday, Starmer was asked whether a siege and cutting off water and electricity supplies to the besieged region was a proportionate response to the assault by Palestinian fighters in southern Israel.
The former human rights lawyer responded: "I think that Israel does have that right, it is an ongoing situation, obviously everything should be done within international law but I don't want to step away from the core principles that Israel has the right to defend herself."
Starmer did not elaborate on how collective punishment methods, such as the withdrawal of water supplies to a large urban area, could be done within international law.
Middle East Eye contacted Labour's communications team to clarify its position on collective punishment. At the time of publication, it had not received a response.
The use of starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare is prohibited under customary international law.
In a statement sent to Middle East Eye on Wednesday afternoon, the Labour Muslim Network (LMN) described Starmer's comments as endorsement of "plans for the collective punishment of 2.2 million people in the Gaza Strip.
"Collective punishment is a war crime. Cutting off power and water to hospitals and life-serving facilities is a war crime," the organisation said, adding: "No government, no army, and no country can ever be above international law.
"We ask you directly, Sir Keir: retract your comments, apologise to Palestinians, and meet urgently with Palestinian representatives and organisations in the UK, LMN and the Muslim Council of Britain."
Starmer's comments were also condemned by left-wing activists, including author Alex Nunns, a former speechwriter for Starmer's predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.
"Keir Starmer says Israel 'does have that right' to enforce a siege, cutting off power and water to Gaza. It doesn’t, collective punishment of civilians is a war crime," Nunns wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
"Tens of thousands of civilians may be killed in the coming months and Keir Starmer is egging it on," he added.
For his part, Corbyn has condemned both the Palestinian assault on southern Israel and the subsequent Israeli reaction.
"The horrific attacks on civilians in Israel were deplorable. This cannot justify the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians, who are paying the price for a crime they did not commit," he posted on X on Tuesday.
"Half of Gaza’s population are children. Trapped in an open-air prison without food, water, gas or electricity, they are watching their homes turn to rubble with nowhere to go."
According to Article 33 of the Geneva Convention IV: "Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited."
Collective punishments are also prohibited under customary international law, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Gaza is home to more than 2.3 million people, who currently have no way out of the area as all crossings out of the territory are blocked. Israel has repeatedly bombed the only exit from Gaza to Egypt, the Rafah crossing, in recent days.
UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, said on Wednesday that Gaza only had enough food and water supplies to last 12 days.