The Labour leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council has expressed disappointment at the resignation of two of the party's councillors over the leadership's stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Cllr Phil Riley was reacting to the decision of borough adult care boss Cllr Mustafa Desai and his Roe Lee ward colleague Cllr Saj Ali to quit on Thursday.

They took their decision after a 20-minute virtual meeting with Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner to discuss the Israeli bombing of Gaza.

The session included Cllr Riley and Blackburn MP Kate Hollern, who on Tuesday called on the government in the House of Commons to work for a ceasefire in the conflict 'to ensure the release of hostages, who are in a terrible situation, and the delivery of aid for Palestinian citizens'.

Cllrs Desai and Ali will now sit as Independents.

They have accused Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer of failing to demand a ceasefire, not calling strongly enough for aid routes to be opened, and failing to condemn 'atrocities being committed by Israel'.

Labour’s official stance, as set out by Sir Keir, is that the party supports a humanitarian pause, as backed by the United Nations and the USA, to temporarily stop the bombardments by Israel and halt rockets from inside Gaza to allow aid to enter, civilians to flee and Israeli hostages seized by Hamas to be released.

Their move follows Audley and Queens Park ward's Cllr Altaf 'Tiger' Patel quitting the Conservative Party over the government's stance on the conflict.

Dozens of Labour councillors in Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn and Pendle have written to both Sir Keir and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calling for them to press for an immediate ceasefire.

Since the fighting started after a terrorist attack by Hamas militants which killed hundreds of civilians in Israel on October 7, the country's defence forces have been bombarding Gaza with missiles. Thousands of civilians have since been killed.

As the council Labour group braced itself for the possibility of more resignations over the weekend, Cllr Riley said: "It is obviously terribly disappointing to lose colleagues particularly over a issue that Blackburn Labour party has got no control over at all.

"We absolutely understand the strength of feeling brought on by the daily images of indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Gaza and we support our MP's call in the House of Commons for a cease fire."

Little Harwood, Sunnybower and Whitebirk ward's Cllr Desai said in a letter to Cllr Riley: "The ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict has and continues to claim many many innocent civilian lives.

”Yes I condemn the attack by Hamas.

"However I also condemn the disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks on innocent Palestinian people and civilian infrastructure, the displacement of millions and the many breaches of international law - all lives are valuable.

"I have written to Keir Starmer the leader of our party on numerous occasions seeking appropriate responses and action - there has been nothing forthcoming.

"My ask was straightforward; a) make a statement for immediate ceasefire b) exert pressure for the aid corridors to be opened allowing essential supplies to reach the needy c) condemn the atrocities being committed by Israel.

"I cannot continue being a member of a party whose leadership are unwilling to callout atrocities against a civilian population."

Cllr Ali said: "I had to follow my conscience. I was not happy with the response from the leadership.

"I cannot stand by and watch innocent lives being massacred."

Mrs Hollern said: "The situation in Gaza has understandably been massively distressing and many constituents have approached me with concerns.

"Whilst I am very sad that we are losing Mustafa and Saj from the Labour Group I fully respect their decisions at this difficult time."