South Tyneside councillors back calls for 'sustainable humanitarian ceasefire' in Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Councillors in South Tyneside have backed calls for a “sustainable humanitarian ceasefire” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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The Middle East conflict was put into focus at a full meeting of South Tyneside Council this month, where a motion on the issue was discussed.

Councillors from the local authority’s opposition Green Party proposed a motion calling for an ‘immediate ceasefire’, along with a request for the council’s leader to write to central government to lobby for this.

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Councillor David Francis, Green Group leader, expressed concerns about the violence in recent months and stressed the need for immediate action to reduce further deaths.

However, the council’s ruling Labour Group proposed an amendment to the motion, changing the wording of ‘immediate ceasefire’ to ‘sustainable ceasefire’.

The amendment made reference to a ‘long-lasting peaceful resolution’ and added information about the Hamas attack on the people of Israel on October 7, 2023.

Reference to South Tyneside Council’s leader writing to the foreign secretary to call on the UK Government to “support international efforts for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” was also removed.

South Shields Town Hall.South Shields Town Hall.
South Shields Town Hall.
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Instead, the amended motion requested that the council’s chief executive writes to the UK Government calling for it to “support diplomatic efforts towards a sustainable humanitarian ceasefire”.

Councillor Mark Walsh, who introduced the Labour amendment, said it aimed to ”reflect the changing national and international tone” since the Hamas attack on Israel in October, 2023, including UN and EU debates.

The Labour councillor added calls for a ‘sustained ceasefire’ reflected recent comments by Labour MP and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy.

Cllr Walsh told the meeting: “I hope that this chamber can come together tonight to support these amendments because it’s in the same spirit as the motion as put forward by the Green Group.

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“I think we need to all come together on this as it is very much a non-political and cross-chamber point of view”.

Some councillors indicated they would have had reservations supporting the original Green Party motion, but said they were happy to support the Labour amendment.

Councillor Ian Forster, the council’s sole Conservative member, said the  Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a “terrible sad situation” but that the amendment “includes both sides fairly”.

Independent councillor Glenn Thompson said he would also support the amended motion due to its reference to the UN Security Council motion passed in December, 2023.

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This included, as the amended motion outlined, a “clear call by the international community to create ‘the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities’”.

Cllr Thompson added: “That’s what gets [the amended motion] over the line for me”.

Labour councillor, Michael Clare, also stressed that the conflict was not between the Israelis and Palestinians, but “between the Israelis and the terrorist organisations”.

After being put to the vote, the amended motion won support across the council chamber.

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Green Party councillor David Francis, while supporting the amended motion, stressed the need for a ceasefire and the costs of delaying this further.

Cllr Francis said: “I still don’t understand what’s so controversial about an immediate ceasefire […] a ceasefire is not asking one side to cease and not the other, it’s a cease in hostilities across both sides, it works both ways.

“Israel has not moved from its original position since October 7, 2023, in fact, the language and rhetoric coming from senior figures in Israel has actually become even more objectionable and horrific in my eyes, demonising and dehumanising people.

“Yes, a longer-term political solution is needed, but innocent civilians shouldn’t be paying the ultimate price for the failures of their leaders and politicians, those supposedly responsible for representing their interests.

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“Anyone who has ever been on a first aid course knows that the first thing that you do is check for danger and make sure that people are safe from immediate harm before you do anything else.

“Of course, in that situation, you would hope that any casualty in a first aid incident has a sustainable good health going forward, but you need to take care of their immediate danger before you worry about that.

“The long-term health means little to somebody whose life is at immediate risk, the longer this all takes, the more innocent people die”.

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The Hamas-run health ministry said more than 25,400 people have now been killed during the war which started after a cross-border Hamas attack on Israel saw 1,300 people killed, most of them civilians.

Cllr Francis continued: “We know that 24,000 people have died since October 7, how many more innocent people will be killed if we wait for a resolution?

“This situation calls for humanity over politics, over judicial challenges, the only way to protect civilians is for the fighting to stop.

“People in Gaza and Israel don’t need a humanitarian pause or to work towards a sustainable solution, they need a ceasefire”.

The amended motion was agreed at a full council meeting at South Shields Town Hall on Thursday, January 18, 2024.

The council meeting is available to view via South Tyneside Council’s YouTube channel.