SIR Keir Starmer denied he ever backed Israel withholding humanitarian aid from Gaza as he sought to clarify his remarks about the siege after sparking concern.

The Labour leader said that food, fuel, water and medicines must urgently be allowed to pass into the territory as he acknowledged his earlier remarks caused “distress”.

A number of his councillors have resigned over what they perceived as “horrifying” comments that he was “endorsing a war crime”.

In an interview with LBC in the wake of Hamas launching a murderous assault on Israeli civilians, Starmer appeared to suggest that Israel has “the right” to withhold energy and water from Gaza.

But after days of backlash, Starmer argued on Friday that he had intended to say that Israel has the right to defend itself and retrieve the around 200 hostages being held – “within international law”.

The National: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (Andy Buchanan/PA)

Speaking to broadcasters, the Labour leader said he wanted to “clarify precisely what I was saying” during the “grave and urgent” situation for more than two million Palestinians.

“I know that LBC clip has been widely shared and caused real concern and distress in some Muslim communities, so let me be clear about what I was saying and what I wasn’t saying,” he said.

“I was saying that Israel has the right to self-defence, and when I said that right I meant it was that right to self-defence. I was not saying that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines.

“On the contrary. For over a week now, I have been leading the charge calling for that humanitarian aid to come in.”

READ MORE: Sam Heughan releases statement after 'inadvertently' signing Gaza letter

Starmer has met with councillors as he works to repair the damage caused by the remarks on the politically fraught subject.

Amna Abdullatif, a councillor in Ardwick in Manchester, and Shaista Aziz and Amar Latif, of Oxford City Council, also said they would resign over the comments.

Abdullatif said Starmer had made “horrifying comments about Israel having the right to withhold fuel, water, food and electricity from the 2.2 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza, effectively endorsing a war crime”.

Protesters gathered outside the Labour headquarters in south-east London on Friday morning to demand the party change its position on the Israel-Hamas war.

Demonstrators at the protest, organised by London Palestine Action, held placards reading: “Where is your backbone?” and: “End the occupation”.

Meanwhile in Scotland a number of party officials have quit their roles amid an alleged gagging order on the issue.

Office bearers in Glasgow Kelvin quit after calling for the cessation of Israeli military action.

The nine Glasgow Kelvin officials include Jim Mackechnie, Jennifer Young, Kim Bonnar, Peter Duffy, Pauline Bryan, Vince Mills, Diarmaid Kelliher, Agnes Tolmie and David Conway.

Speaking exclusively to The National, Duffy explained that the branch had intended to debate a motion on Gaza at their monthly meeting.

But within hours of circulating the motion with members, he said he received an email from Scottish Labour saying no branches were to discuss the situation in Gaza under any circumstances.

Duffy added: “I thought that comment ‘Israel has that right’ when he was asked about Israel cutting off water was completely wrong and disgraceful, to be honest.

“I noticed various party hierarchy are now trying to walk back on that and say actually he was answering a previous question.

“Now that may or may not be true but there’s been plenty of opportunity to rectify that and I haven’t seen that."