Jeremy Corbyn said he will not apologise for attending a controversial event at a Palestinian Martyrs Cemetery because he was trying to “promote peace in the Middle East”.
The Labour leader had been widely criticised after he said he was present when wreaths were laid at the Tunis site in 2014 to the victims of an attack in Paris in 1992 but did not think he was “actually involved in it”.
Mr Corbyn’s comments on Monday prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accuse him of honouring one of the founders of the Black September terror group which carried out the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, who died in the incident in the French capital.
The Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger said being “present” at the event was “the same as actually being involved” while Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he lacked “moral authority” when it came to condemning terrorist atrocities.
Speaking during a visit on Tuesday to the Harper Adams University in Newport, Shropshire, Mr Corbyn insisted the wreath he laid at the cemetery in Tunis had been to commemorate all those killed during an Israeli air strike on the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s offices in the city in 1985.
“I, along with other colleagues… laid a wreath in memory of those who died in the hope that we have a peace process and peace in the future so those raids are never repeated,” he said.
“I’m not apologising for being there at all. I went to a conference to try and promote peace in the Middle East.”
The Labour leader appeared to become increasingly exasperated as he was questioned about what happened during a pooled television clip, at one point rolling his eyes as he was repeatedly pressed on the wreath laying.
He said the Tunis attack, in which women and children had also died, had been condemned at the time by the then UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher and former US president Ronald Reagan, as well as the UN Security Council.
Of the ceremony in Tunis, he said: “I was there when the wreaths were laid, that’s pretty obvious. There were many others there who were witness to that. I witnessed many other people laying many wreaths.
“I laid one wreath along with many other people in memory, as I’ve said, of all those who died in the awful attack in 1985 which as I keep repeating… was condemned by the whole world.”
The row originally erupted after the Daily Mail published pictures of Mr Corbyn holding a wreath at the cemetery which it said were taken in front of a plaque honouring the founder of Black September.
During a visit to Walsall on Monday, Mr Corbyn suggested that a wreath had been laid to “those that were killed in Paris in 1992” – an apparent reference to assassinated PLO intelligence chief Atef Bseiso, who was accused by the Israelis of being involved in the Munich outrage in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed.
However the Labour press office said on Tuesday that those who carried out the Munich attack were not buried in the cemetery in Tunis and there had been no ceremony for them.
Writing on Twitter, Mr Hunt said: “If Jeremy Corbyn thinks terrorism is justified for the causes he believes in, how would he as prime minister have the moral authority to condemn terrorist murders of British citizens? Unbelievable and shocking.”
Meanwhile, a Tory peer confirmed he was also at the peace conference in Tunis, which Mr Corbyn attended, and that members of Hamas may also have been present.
Lord Sheikh, the founder of the Conservative Muslim Foundation (CMF), said he did not meet any figures from the banned terrorist organisation and did not attend the wreath laying ceremony at the Palestinian cemetery.
“I did not meet any Hamas people, I am very careful, obviously,” he told the Press Association.