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Foreign Secretary says Government favours ‘humanitarian pause’ over ceasefire

People at a rally in Trafalgar Square, London, during Stop the War coalition’s call for a Palestine ceasefire (Victoria Jones/PA)
People at a rally in Trafalgar Square, London, during Stop the War coalition’s call for a Palestine ceasefire (Victoria Jones/PA)

The Foreign Secretary has said the Government supports a “humanitarian pause” in the Gaza Strip above a wider ceasefire as police give the go-ahead for a demonstration calling for a ceasefire to take place on Armistice Day.

Speaking on the sidelines of the G7 Foreign Minister talks in Japan, the Associated Press reports James Cleverly told a select group of journalists that a ceasefire would hamper Israel’s ability to defend itself.

He said: “We have seen and heard absolutely nothing that makes us believe that Hamas leadership is serious about (a) ceasefire.”

His comments come hours after Labour frontbencher Imran Hussain said he was quitting his role as shadow minister for the new deal for working people to be able to “strongly advocate” for a ceasefire.

On Tuesday, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley resisted pressure heaped on the force by politicians including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to try to block a pro-Palestinian gathering in London on Saturday.

In a statement, Sir Mark said intelligence surrounding the potential for serious disorder this weekend does not meet the threshold to apply to prohibit the march.

“The laws created by Parliament are clear. There is no absolute power to ban protest, therefore there will be a protest this weekend,” Sir Mark said.

He said use of the power to block moving protests is “incredibly rare” and must be reserved for cases where there is intelligence to suggest a “real threat” of serious disorder.

But he said organisers of Saturday’s march had shown “complete willingness to stay away from the Cenotaph and Whitehall and have no intention of disrupting the nation’s remembrance events”.

“Should this change, we’ve been clear we will use powers and conditions available to us to protect locations and events of national importance at all costs,” Sir Mark said.

Israel-Hamas conflict
Protesters at a rally in Trafalgar Square over the weekend (Victoria Jones/PA)

The Met had urged the march organisers to “urgently reconsider” the event on Saturday because of a growing risk of violence, but the pro-Palestinian coalition behind it have refused to call it off.

The force could request the power to ban the event under Section 13 of the Public Order Act 1986, but that would only apply if there was the threat of serious public disorder that could not be controlled by other measures.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said operational decisions on whether to ban the planned march were for the Metropolitan Police, but he added that the Government would “carefully consider” any application to prevent it.

“The Prime Minister himself does not think it’s right for these sorts of protests to be scheduled on Armistice Day,” the spokesman said.

“He believes that is provocative and disrespectful.”

The coalition of groups, which includes the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War and the Muslim Association of Britain, insisted they would press ahead with the demonstration calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

There are concerns that breakaway groups from the main march could look for trouble, while counter-demonstrations may add to policing difficulties.

The i reports messages in one anti-Islamic WhatsApp group, containing more than 1,000 members, call on people to “fight back” against pro-Palestinian protesters.

English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson has also spoken out, adding: “British men are mobilising for Saturday to be in London” to “show our Government and show our police and show Hamas and everyone sitting around the world saying ‘Britain has fallen’ that there is a resistance”.

A call to arms has also been issued on social media by the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, a right-wing organisation that uses football fan networks to spread Islamophobic hate.

A post on the group’s Facebook page says: “Vets have reached out and asked for our support due to the threat from the far-left and pro-Palestinian supporters to disrupt the Remembrance day parade.

“We are calling on all football lads up and down the country, to join us in standing shoulder to shoulder with our veterans that fought for our freedom.”

Veterans’ affairs minister Johnny Mercer urged former military personnel not to join protests and stressed that the route of the march was not due to go near the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

Mr Mercer, in a letter to Sir Mark, said he had spent the weekend “dissuading various veterans groups from organising marches or protests this Saturday”.

But he urged police to protect veterans marking the Armistice or Remembrance Sunday.

“I have particular concern towards our elderly veterans for whom travelling to London once a year is an important part of their remembrance, and have expressed genuine fears to me around their ability to travel to London, particularly through our rail stations, unmolested,” he said.

His comments came after 78-year-old poppy seller Jim Henderson was allegedly punched at Waverley Station in Edinburgh during a pro-Palestinian rally, an incident described as “repulsive” by Downing Street.

The planned route for the London march goes from Hyde Park – about a mile from the Cenotaph – to the US embassy in Vauxhall, south of the Thames.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said previously “hate marchers need to understand that decent British people have had enough of these displays of thuggish intimidation and extremism”.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk distanced himself from her comments, making clear that he would not use the language of “hate marchers” but insisted that did not signal “confusion” within Government.

The Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, which will be attended by the King and Queen and other members of the royal family, will take place on Saturday.

Remembrance Sunday events will take place at the Cenotaph in Westminster the following day.

Meanwhile, the Government believes there are three British hostages still being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

More than 100 UK nationals who were in the territory when the war broke out have been able to flee the territory through the Rafah crossing with Egypt.