OPINION - The Standard View: Return all the hostages to stop this bloodshed

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

The loss of life in Gaza is unbearable. At least 29,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed since October 7, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Even if the fighting were to stop today, thousands more could still die due to the public health crisis in the Gaza Strip.

This newspaper’s position has been and remains that Israel has an inalienable right to defend itself and secure the return of all hostages, following the Hamas massacre in which gunmen killed 1,200 people and seized more than 240.

Hamas is a terrorist organisation whose stated aim is the destruction of Israel and whose senior leadership has vowed to repeat the horrific attacks on the country “again and again”. This makes negotiation and peaceful coexistence difficult.

Back in Britain, and Parliament is set to debate a ceasefire motion. Sir Keir Starmer has already suffered frontbench resignations when he refused to back an immediate ceasefire in November. He now appears to be shifting his position, in response both to the facts on the ground and the need to maintain party unity.

The Israeli military is turning its sights to Rafah in the south of Gaza. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the city the “last bastion” of Hamas, and warned Israel cannot secure its goal of destroying the group while it remains in place there. Yet in Rafah there are also nearly 1.5 million people — a population six times greater than before the war — who have nowhere else to go.

The United States rightly demands there should be no assault on Rafah until there is a credible way to protect civilians. Israel has thus far provided no such plan, and it is difficult to conceive how one might operate. To bring this war to an end and prevent further bloodshed, Hamas must immediately return all the hostages. The alternative is unworkable and unthinkable.

Victory on food waste

The Government’s decision to allocate £15 million to tackle farm food waste and support those suffering from food insecurity represents a major victory for the Evening Standard.

Last year, this newspaper began our campaign to end the scourge of perfectly good farm produce being wasted while at the same time as 13 million people, including four million children, face food insecurity. Alongside food surplus distributors FareShare and The Felix Project, we revealed how nearly three million tonnes of perfectly good farm produce was being burned, buried or used to generate biogas — enough for seven billion meals.

Addressing this problem head-on is a win-win that will make a substantive difference to the lives of people in London and across the country.