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Preston City Council votes to back immediate ceasefire in Gaza conflict

Posted on - 27th November, 2023 - 5:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Politics, Preston Council, Preston News
Preston Town Hall in Lancaster Road Pic: Blog Preston
Preston Town Hall in Lancaster Road Pic:

Preston City Council has voted to back an immediate ceasefire by all parties in the Gaza conflict.

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The authority resolved to make the call at an extraordinary meeting which took place less than 48 hours before the soon-to-end temporary pause in fighting began last week.  That halt has paved the way for the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

The Preston motion demands the unconditional release of all hostages and supports “the upholding of International law” – and specifically “appropriate investigation and accountability for breaches”.

Read more: Lancashire devolution deal signed but key questions left to be answered

It comes just weeks after all 20 mosques in Preston demanded that the Labour councillors who run the town hall call for national party leader Sir Keir Starmer to resign.

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Deputy leader of the authority, Martyn Rawlinson, told the debate on the ceasefire motion that there had been suggestions that members should not “take sides”.

He said:  “I take sides every day of my life.  All the time, I’m presented with information and I observe things…make judgements and I decide which way is best.  Why wouldn’t you take sides in war?

“We’ve decided…to speak up for the people of Gaza, because Gaza is being destroyed.  And the concept of Palestine as a state is effectively being destroyed as we speak.  A humanitarian pause won’t stop that.

“I’m here for all my constituents who have contacted me. We’re all being contacted constantly, especially in the wards where there is a large Muslim population, of course, who feel a deep connection to this issue.

“I’m not standing up here today because there are a lot of Muslims in my ward, I’m standing up here because I agree with them” Cllr Rawlinson said.

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Council leader Matthew Brown said that there needed to be a peace process in the “mindset” of that which brought routine hostilities in the Troubles in Northern Ireland to an end.

“The current escalation follows the horrific Hamas terror attack of 7th October, which killed 1,400 people.  This ruling Labour group has condemned that unreservedly.”

The motion also sets out plans for a memorial in Preston in acknowledgement of the loss of life in the Middle East – a project that will be undertaken in consultation with the city’s Faith Covenant group.

Conservative councillor Stephen Thompson, who represents Preston Rural North, said that nobody wanted to see “piles of dead bodies” in the region.

However, after declaring an interest as a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel, he added:  “Hamas don’t want peace.  If you have a ceasefire…it will just give them time to reorganise, to regroup.

“It is a complicated history [and] it has unfortunately resulted in what is a bloodbath at the moment.”

His Tory colleague, Preston Rural East member Stephen Whittam, said that he was personally “conflicted” over the issue of a ceasefire, which is not the policy of the Conservative UK government.

“What we have seen in Gaza in the last few weeks is appalling. What happened on 7th October was despicable – and that’s what kicked this off now – accepting that it has been going on for an awful long time.

“Israel has a right to defend themselves.  Whether or not it is now going far too far is a question for an international court of justice,” Cllr Whittam said.

Ingol and Cottam Liberal Democrat Neil Darby proposed an amendment to the motion, which added a description of Hamas – which controls the Gaza Strip – as “a terrorist organisation”, in line with how it is recognised by the UK.  It also stated that any ceasefire must be “bilateral”, which Cllr Darby said was vital in order to secure a “lasting peace”.

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“The lasting peace that will give both Palestinians and Israelis alike the dignity and security which they need and deserve.  To do this, we need a sustained political and diplomatic solution.

“The only route to this is a bilateral ceasefire – a simple freeze of the conflict simply will not suffice.  That does not provide the long-term security that is needed, it doesn’t help to secure the future and, most importantly,  it leaves in jeopardy the lives of too many innocent people on both sides who have already suffered…more than enough.

“Every death of an innocent human being…Palestinian or Israeli, pushes peace further away now and risks radicalising ever more future combatants,” Cllr Darby said.

His group leader, John Potter, added that Hamas “cannot be allowed to be in charge of Gaza while they repeatedly call for further and repeated October 7th attacks”.

However, the Lib Dem amendment was voted down, with Cllr Brown saying that some of its aims were covered by the original Labour version, which was overwhelmingly carried, with just one vote against and one abstention.

Speaking after the meeting, Mukhtar Master, the Muslim community representative on the Faith Covenant – and one of those behind the mosque’s recent demand – said that the passing of the motion was “an immensely symbolic gesture which sends a resounding message that the city of Preston is on the side of peace”.

He added:  “The 47-day Israeli onslaught on Gaza has cost nearly 15,000 lives – many of whom have been children.  Even though the Tory government is stalling on calling for a ceasefire, Preston City Council have been bold enough to call out the genocide for what it is.

“The motion came on the back of a request by the mosques of Preston demanding that Labour councillors seek Keir Starmer’s resignation, because of his stubborn refusal to back a ceasefire.  This was clearly a step too far for Labour councillors, and in particular their leader Cllr Matthew Brown, who were clearly moved enough by the scenes of devastation from Gaza, to offer a ceasefire motion of their own,” Mr. Maser said.

He added that he and the city’s mosques would continue to seek “a lasting, just and comprehensive peace for Palestine”.

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