Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has said comments by Sir Keir Starmer which appeared to back Israel cutting off water and power to Gaza were “hurtful”.

The Labour leader has since rowed back on the remarks, made to broadcaster LBC, which resulted in resignations among Labour councillors and sparked anger among the party’s MPs.

Speaking to the Daily Record on Tuesday, the Scottish party leader said: “It was hurtful and I think he would accept it was hurtful. He accepts that it is not his position and it never was his position. But (that) language, framed as it was, did cause hurt.”

He went on to say that the comments could have been clarified and “rebuffed” sooner.

Mr Sarwar, along with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, are among the most high-profile members in the party to call for a ceasefire – something the UK’s party leadership has appeared resistant to.

On the relationship with Muslim members of the party, Mr Sarwar said there is “repair work to do” to restore “that trust and relationship”.


But he added that Sir Keir’s position on the conflict is not far from his own, saying: “I know how pained Keir is by this entire situation. I know how desperate he is for peace. I know how much he’s hurt by the LBC interview.

“He accepts his mistake in terms of his response.”

Sir Keir, Mr Sarwar said, is calling for a “humanitarian pause” to allow for aid to reach those in Gaza, the release of hostages, and a return to meaningful negotiations on reaching a two-state solution.

According to Labour MP Sir Chris Bryant, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sir Keir will use a speech on Tuesday to call for negotiations to be brought “back on track”.

The comments come as Middlesborough MP Andy McDonald has been suspended by Labour for referring to the phrase “between the river and the sea”, which a spokesman for the party described as “deeply offensive”.

Mr McDonald, however, said the reference was part of a “heartfelt plea” for peace in the Middle East, with a video he posted on X – formerly Twitter – showing he said: “We will not rest until we have justice.

“Until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty.”