Tower Hamlets’s Muslim mayor Lutfur Rahman sparked a storm of protest tonight after raising the Palestinian flag over the town hall ‘in solidarity with Gaza’.
Barely 24 hours after it emerged Mr Rahman is to face trial over claims he committed widespread voting fraud, he ordered the flag to fly ‘in support of a ceasefire and peace’.
Jewish leaders condemned the move as ‘destructive’ for community relations as local residents said the council should concentrate on ‘potholes and bins’ and not international conflicts.
Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman tweeted this photo of the Palestinian flag flying outside the town hall
Mr Lutfur said he had taken the decision to fly the flag ‘in solidarity with Gaza’ but Tory party chairman Grant Shapps condemned the ’empty, flag-waving gesture politics’
Mr Rahman was a member of the Tower Hamlets Labour Party and was its candidate to be the first directly elected mayor of the borough in 2010.
But he was expelled from the Labour party after allegations surfaced about his close links with an Islamic extremist group called the Islamic Forum of Europe.
He is accused of using illegal tactics to win the mayoral election in Tower Hamlets, East London, in May.
Just yesterday it emerged four voters had won their big to have a damaging dossier of evidence heard at a full trial. Mr Rahman has strenuously denied allegations of electoral fraud.
Today Mr Rahman risked provoking fresh controversy with his decision to fly the flag of Palestine over the town hall in Mulberry Place, off Clove Crescent.
He tweeted a photograph of the flag, with the message: ‘Palestinian flag flying at Town Hall in solidarity with #Gaza and in support of a ceasefire & peace.’
The move risks angering the Jewish community in the east London borough and fuelling divisions in a borough increasingly used to making headlines for the wrong reasons.
A recent review found the council’s handling of the local and European election count was ‘inadequate’.
Tonight Tory party chairman Grant Shapps told MailOnline: ‘This is an administration that cannot even organise their own election count, let alone intervene on foreign affairs in the Middle East.
‘What we need is an immediate ceasefire and continued humanitarian aid, rather than empty, flag-waving gesture politics.’
Mayor Rahman should remember that he is flying a flag from a British town hall in support of an organisation that is regarded across Europe and the world as terrorist. It is totally inappropriate. It is also destructive of relations between the communities that make up our capital city.
It is not thought that there are any rules stopping the flying of the flag over a public building.
Jonathan Arkush, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: ‘Mayor Rahman should remember that he is flying a flag from a British town hall in support of an organisation that is regarded across Europe and the world as terrorist.
‘It is totally inappropriate. It is also destructive of relations between the communities that make up our capital city.’
The decision to fly the flag from the town hall Mulberry Place, off Clove Crescent in the East London borough risks causing community divisions
There was immediate condemnation of the decision on Twitter, with some arguing the council should concentrate on ‘potholes and bins’
In a statement Mr Rahman said: ‘We are flying the Palestinian flag over the town hall as a humanitarian gesture of our solidarity with the people of Gaza.
‘In addition to the current military onslaught, the blockade of Gaza is causing a humanitarian catastrophe. Over 1,000 people have been killed, most of them women and children. An urgent aid corridor needs to be opened to allow those injured to receive treatment and medical care.
‘We mourn the loss of life in this tragic conflict. We call on our Prime Minister to help create a lasting peace that breaks the cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians and prevents any further loss of innocent lives.’
An estimated 1,200 Palestinians and 55 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. Israel launched its offensive in Gaza after a surge in rocket fire from the territory.
Hamas, which controls Gaza, has said it will not stop fighting until a blockade on the area, maintained by both Israel and Egypt, is lifted.
Already this month there have been angry rows about Preston Town Council and Bradford Council flying the Palestinian flag.
David Israel of the Leeds Jewish community said the Preston council was wrong to take sides in the conflict. innocent Israeli civilians have suffered through war and conflict,’ he told the BBC.
‘If you’re going to put up one flag you need to put up the other flag to show support for innocent civilians on both sides on the conflict.’
Others backed the move, saying they were ‘proud’ of Mr Lutfur for taking the controversial decision
Earlier Mr Cameron announced an extra £3 million aid for Gaza as he repeated his call for an unconditional ceasefire to stop the conflict. Britain has already given £7 million in aid.
Speaking during a Q&A session with workers in Warrington, Mr Cameron said the £3 million would ‘help make sure the people in Gaza have the basic necessities of life, the food, the shelter and the assistance that they need’.
Prime Minister David Cameron today announced an extra £3million for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza
He went on: ‘We should be very clear that we want an unconditional, immediate, humanitarian ceasefire that applies to everybody.
‘What we are seeing happening in Gaza is completely tragic and ghastly, the loss of life is appalling, it is heart-rending watching these scenes on our television.
‘But while calling for an unconditional, immediate ceasefire, we do have to be clear about a couple of points.’
Mr Cameron added: ‘Yes, it is awful what is happening in Gaza and the loss of life, but we do have to remember, whenever we have had a ceasefire in the last few days, it has been a ceasefire that has been obeyed and observed by the Israelis but it has not been observed by Hamas.
‘Hamas continue the rocket attacks that are not aimed at military targets or political targets. They are aimed, indiscriminately, into Israel in order to do the maximum damage they possibly can.
‘And so we do have to understand that that has to stop in order for there to be a lasting ceasefire.’