London, Feb 13 (AP) UK's opposition Labour Party on Monday disowned an election candidate who claimed that Israel allowed Hamas' October 7 attack to happen as a pretext to invade Gaza.

Azhar Ali was selected last month to run for Labour in a February 29 special election for the House of Commons seat representing Rochdale, a constituency in northwest England. Soon after, a newspaper published remarks he had made during a local party meeting last year.

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Ali apologised, and senior Labour figures called the comments "totally unacceptable", but the party did not immediately suspend him. After increasing pressure, Labour said on Monday that while it was too late to replace Ali on the ballot, the party had "withdrawn its support" for him.

"We understand that these are highly unusual circumstances, but it is vital that any candidate put forward by Labour fully represents its aims and values," the party said in a statement.

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Ali was suspended from Labour pending an investigation, meaning that he would sit as an independent lawmaker, if he is elected.

Since taking the helm of Labour in 2020, leader Keir Starmer has steered the social democratic party back toward the political middle ground after the divisive tenure of predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, a staunch socialist who advocated nationalisation of key industries and infrastructure.

The party now has a double-digit poll lead over the governing Conservatives, with an election due to be held this year.

Starmer also repaired relations with the UK's Jewish community and vowed to root out anti-semitism that's alleged to have tainted the party under Corbyn, a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause. Corbyn was suspended from Labour in 2020 after he claimed opponents had exaggerated the scale of anti-semitism in the party for "political reasons".

Ali had been the frontrunner to win the election, caused by the death of the previous Labour lawmaker.

Other candidates include George Galloway, a former Labour lawmaker who now represents the tiny Workers Party and is campaigning against Labour's stance on the Israel-Hamas war. The party has criticised Israel's conduct of the war and the toll on Palestinian civilians but has not called for an immediate ceasefire.

UK's Conservative government said on Monday that it was imposing sanctions on four Israeli settlers accused of committing human rights abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank. (AP)

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