A SENIOR Labour MP has claimed there are “questions” about “how far and when” international law applies in relation to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.

Lisa Nandy, the shadow overseas development minister, said that “even within the limitations of the international framework” Labour was “absolutely clear that Israel has the right to defend itself”.

But she added: “Civilians have to be protected”.

She was grilled about the Labour leadership’s position on the war between Israel and Hamas after addressing the press gallery lunch in Westminster on Thursday, following a bruising Commons vote in which 56 Labour MPs defied Keir Starmer to vote with the SNP and back a ceasefire.

The crunch vote saw a large protest demanding a ceasefire gather outside Parliament on Wednesday night and the resignations of 10 members of Starmer’s frontbench.

Questions over international law

Asked whether Labour backed Israel’s stated aim of eradicating Hamas from the Gaza strip, Nandy suggested international law may not be fit for purpose in modern conflicts like the current war in Gaza.

She said: “We have reservations about whether you can militarily destroy Hamas.

READ MORE: Keir Starmer rocked by resignations as Gaza ceasefire vote exposes cracks

“Hamas is an ideology as much as it is a terrorist organisation that is currently holding hostages in Gaza and firing rockets at Israel.

“And I think it is important to recognise that in the end there is no military solution to this conflict.

“But we absolutely support the right of Israel to defend itself. There’s a duty on Israel to ensure that the hostages that are still alive are returned home safely to their families.

“And I know that for many people watching the images of what’s happening in Gaza are as distressing to them as they are to all of us.

“But I would just ask people to think through, if this was Britain, what would we do? If we were still under attack from a terrorist organisation? If we were in the situation of hundreds of hostages, some of them Holocaust survivors, sitting in tunnels in Gaza, some with serious medical needs, children, young children?

“We would be doing everything that we could in order to degrade the ability of that terrorist organisation, to defend ourselves and to ensure that the hostages were returned safely.

“We’ve been really clear, as a front bench, that regardless of questions of international law – and international law is, it was built for a different era between two state parties, there are questions about you know, how far and when it applies in situations like these.

“But civilians have to be protected, that is absolutely clear.

The National: David Lammy

“The number of civilian deaths in Gaza has been far too high, particularly women and children and as David [Lammy, shadow foreign secretary] and I both said, when a refugee camp was targeted a couple of weeks ago, as [foreign office minister] Andrew Mitchell has said as well, it’s never acceptable to target hospitals, to target refugee camps, to target schools and to target shelters where there are a large number of babies.

“It’s not that we don’t recognise the complexity of the situation, Hamas is an organisation that deliberately embeds itself within the civilian population.

“But even within the limitations of the international framework, we’re absolutely clear that Israel has the right to defend itself.

“It has the right, it has a duty, to ensure the hostages are returned but civilians have to be protected.”

'No prospect of ceasefire' 

Defending Labour’s opposition to a ceasefire, Nandy said: “There are two issues with the ceasefire.

"The first is that currently, with no prospect whatsoever of a breakthrough with Hamas – you know, David were in the region a couple of weeks ago and talking to the Qataris, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, there isn’t, I mean there may be a breakthrough on hostages, but there certainly hasn’t been, all there’s been in the last few weeks is a hardening of rhetoric from Hamas.

“The message that that sends to Israel and to others I think is very much the wrong one and counterproductive.

“But secondly that, as Martin Griffiths, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator, who David and I meet with and discuss these issues with on a regular basis, wrote a couple of weeks ago, at the current time, humanitarian pauses are the only viable prospect.

“And because they’re the only viable prospect and because the situation is so extreme – I mean, I’ve never seen anything like this, I’ve you know lived through many flare-ups of violence in the Middle East but this is extraordinary, both in the horror of what happened on October 7 and in the incredible loss of life, horrendous loss of life in Gaza particularly women and children.

“When you look at those things, it’s not hard to comprehend why, at the moment, dialogue seems impossible and a ceasefire – I have to say having been in the region – seems like a very, very distant prospect.

“We’ve got to focus our minds on what is achievable in order to reach the goal that we all want to reach, which is a permanent end to the violence and a credible peace process, which hasn’t been present as I said for at least a decade and a half if not more.”