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Rift in UK stance on Gaza

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British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband

Labour Leader Ed Miliband  has described Israel’s incursion into Gaza as “wrong and unjustifiable” in his toughest comments about the Middle East conflict, the Sunday Times reported.

The Labour leader challenged David Cameron last night, saying it was “inexplicable” that he had failed to condemn Israeli attacks that have killed Palestinian children. No 10 hit back by accusing Miliband of “playing politics” with the crisis.

Miliband condemned the “wholly unjustified rocket attacks” on Israel by the militant group Hamas but the Labour leader, who describes himself as Jewish, took an even tougher line with Israel, saying its military action had been “wrong and unjustifiable” and would lead to a “new generation” of Palestinians “bent on revenge”.

At least 10 people have been killed in a strike near a UN-run school housing Palestinians displaced by the Gaza conflict, medics said on Sunday. The attack hit the entrance of the facility in Rafah, where thousands of Palestinians are said to be sheltering. The Israeli military has not commented but has been carrying out renewed strikes in Gaza. Gaza health officials say 30 people have died on Sunday, while militants continue to fire rockets into Israel.

British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband
British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband

“The escalation of violence engulfing Gaza has led, and continues to lead, to suffering and destruction on an appalling scale, and is losing Israel friends in the international community day by day,” Miliband said.

Turning his fire on the prime minister, the Labour leader said: “David Cameron should be playing a leading role in these efforts to secure peace. The prime minister is wrong not to have opposed Israel’s incursion into Gaza.

“And his silence on the killing of hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians caused by Israel’s military action will be inexplicable to people across Britain and internationally.”

A No 10 spokesman said: “The PM has been clear that both sides in the Gaza conflict need to observe a ceasefire. We are shocked that Ed Miliband would seek to misrepresent that position and play politics with such a serious issue.”

Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, said the situation in Gaza had become “simply intolerable” and called on both sides to adopt an immediate ceasefire “without conditions”.

In the strongest condemnation of the conflict from the UK government, Hammond said the British public felt “deeply disturbed” by the suffering “it is seeing on its television screens coming out of Gaza”.

“The British public has a strong sense that the situation of the civilian population in Gaza is intolerable and must be addressed — and we agree with them,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.

The foreign secretary added: “We understand that Israel has concerns, we understand that Hamas has concerns. We are not saying we’re not interested in those. But we cannot allow them to stand in the way of a humanitarian ceasefire. We have to get the killing to stop.”

Yesterday officials in Israel said it was considering pulling out of Gaza once its mission to destroy Hamas’s tunnels and military hardware was completed, and would not take part in the latest round of ceasefire talks in Cairo. The destruction of the tunnels is expected to finish within 24 hours.

Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, warned that Hamas would pay an “intolerable price” should there be continued attacks from Palestinian territory. He said Israeli forces would “act and continue to act” until the tunnels were destroyed.

Early today, Israel said that Hadar Goldin, an officer who went missing after a Hamas ambush on soldiers from a tunnel near Rafah, was dead.

Shelling continued in Gaza, with the mostly civilian Palestinian death toll rising to 1,669; 65 Israelis have died.

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