Sir Keir Starmer clearly labelled Hamas’s deadly assault on Israel a “terrorist attack”, in contrast to Jeremy Corbyn who resisted directly condemning the militant group.
The Labour leader said on Sunday that there can be “no justification” for the operation that has left at least 600 dead, including a British man serving in the Israeli army, and provoked a furious response from Israel that killed more than 300 in Gaza.
His predecessor said he does not “support any attacks”, but sought to avoid directly criticising Hamas while being questioned in Liverpool, where Mr Corbyn is attending a left-wing political festival instead of the Labour conference.
In a tetchy exchange with journalists on the way to one event, Mr Corbyn said he wants “peace, a ceasefire and a process that ends the Israeli occupation of Palestine”.
Mr Corbyn is sitting as an independent MP after being removed from Labour’s parliamentary party over his response to antisemitism under his leadership, but remains a party member.
At an event at The World Transformed festival, which coincides with the Labour conference, Mr Corbyn said he was “working with people around the world to bring about peace”.
He added: “You don’t just condemn – as I do – any acts of violence, anywhere around the world. You look at the causes as well.”
On the current “terrible situation in Israel and Palestine”, he said: “The way to end that, I think, is to end the occupation of Palestine by Israel.”
Sir Keir was quick to criticise the thousands of rockets launched towards Israel in a surprise attack by Hamas on land, sea and air as a “terrorist attack”.
“Labour stands firmly in support of Israel’s right to defend itself, rescue hostages and protect its citizens,” he said in a statement.
“The indiscriminate attacks from Hamas are unjustifiable and have set back the cause of peace.”
“As we were on the phone the siren went off and she had to go down into her shelter taking her papers with her,” he said.
“So it’s an appalling act of terrorism, it needs to be called out across the world.”
Sir Keir’s shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, said he would not “mince my words” in describing Hamas as a terrorist organisation.
He told a conference fringe event that Labour remains committed to a two-state solution to the conflict in the Middle East.
“Hamas are seeking to undermine that. They are seeking to break that, they are approaching this with rockets and with terrorism.”
Hamas is an Islamist military group which has since 2007 ruled over the Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded by Israel.
Backed by Iran, Hamas is designated as a terrorist organisation by the UK, US and the EU.
A Labour spokesman said: “Keir Starmer leads a changed Labour Party, unrecognisable from the one that lost in 2019, and we’re never going back.”
Meanwhile, Tory party chair Greg Hands urged Labour to suspend MP Apsana Begum for posing for a photo with activists from the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, which is demanding the end to what it calls an “apartheid”.