A mosque in South Wales that hosted Sir Keir Starmer has apologised for the “hurt and confusion” caused by the visit after a backlash from some within the Muslim community.
The South Wales Islamic Centre issued a statement late on Tuesday evening in which it sought to “clarify our stance” following the Labour leader’s visit on Sunday.
It said subsequent social media posts by Sir Keir “gravely misrepresented our congregants and the nature of the visit” which it said “put the South Wales Islamic Centre and the wider Muslim community into disrepute”.
The statement has reignited tensions within the Labour Party over its stance on Gaza, with one source telling Sky News there had been a “pattern of behaviour” that had been “deeply insensitive” to the Muslim community and left some MPs and staff “in tears”.
Sky News understands that there will be a meeting tomorrow in which Sir Keir and his deputy Angela Rayner will meet Muslim MPs to address the ongoing situation.
The Labour leader made the visit to the mosque against the backdrop of criticism from within his own party at the position he had taken towards Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in the aftermath of the Hamas terror attack on 7 October.
In the immediate days after the Hamas incursion, Sir Keir gave an interview with LBC in which he appeared to suggest that the Israel’s decision to withhold water and power from Gaza was proportionate and justified.
In the widely shared clip, the Labour leader was asked what a “proportionate” response would look like, to which Sir Keir replied that responsibility “lies with Hamas” and that Israel “has the right to defend herself”.
Presenter Nick Ferrari interjected: “A siege is appropriate? Cutting off power, cutting off water?”
The Labour leader replied: “I think that Israel does have that right. It is an ongoing situation.”
He added: “Obviously everything should be done within international law, but I don’t want to step away from the core principles that Israel has a right to defend herself and Hamas bears responsibility for the terrorist acts.”
The comments prompted 23 Labour councillors to resign in protest.
The Labour leader then sought to clarify his remarks, saying that while he believed Israel had a “right to self-defence”, that did not mean it should withhold humanitarian aid to Gaza, which is home to 2.2 million civilians.
In the statement, the mosque’s representatives said they “fully understand and share the anger many in the Muslim community are feeling, both here in Wales and across the UK” and added: “We apologise for the hurt and confusion that our hosting of this visit has caused.
“Our strength is in our unity, and we are aware that this visit has weakened and undermined that unity.”
They said the Labour leader visited the mosque at “short notice” but there was a a “robust and frank conversation which reflected the sentiments Muslim communities are feeling at this time”.
“Members of the community directly challenged Keir on his statements made on the Israeli government’s right to cut food, electricity and water to Gaza, warranting war crimes as well as his failure to call for an immediate ceasefire.”
The statement came after Sir Keir posted a tweet from the visit, in which he said he had “repeated our calls for all hostages to be released, more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, for the water and power to be switched back on, and a renewed focus on the two state solution”.
Sources questioned the Labour leader’s decision to mention hostages at the mosque, with one saying: “People have been killed and we are calling for hostages to be released. They are nothing to do with it.
“Our policy seems to be to alienate the Muslim community.”
A Labour MP also told Sky News: “Wouldn’t it have been better to say you spoke with congregants and acknowledged the grief and fear many had, stood with them against rising islamophobia and gave a commitment that we would not stand for the situation in Israel and Gaza being used to divide communities here?
“I think he just needs some lessons in less robotic and awkward comms from Sadiq, Burnham and Sarwar, who seem to do better in empathy and capturing the mood better.
“You don’t need to get all the lines out in every tweet. How was that centre going to help release hostages? It was a pointless and irrelevant thing to add.”
The MP called on the Labour leader to apologise for the initial LBC interview as well as backing a ceasefire or “humanitarian pause”.
A number of Labour MPs have begun making calls for a ceasefire or humanitarian pause, including chair of the International Development Committee Sarah Champion, Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy, and former shadow cabinet minister Rosena Allin-Khan.
The United Nations, the Palestinians and many other countries made the request at a high-level UN meeting today, but Israel’s foreign minister said it was the country’s “right to destroy Hamas”.
However, the government and the Labour Party have not yet called for a ceasefire.
The Labour Party has been approached for comment.