Saturday, July 20

Harris calls for ‘immediate ceasefire’, urges Hamas to accept

Harris calls for ‘immediate ceasefire’, urges Hamas to accept

A United Nations report released Monday revealed signs that sexual violence was committed in several locations during Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7 and said some hostages held in the Gaza Strip were also been subjected to rape and sexual torture.

From late January to early February, the United Nations deployed a team of experts to Israel and the West Bank led by Pramila Patten, the secretary-general’s special officer on representative sexual violence in conflict.

In their reportexperts said they found “reasonable grounds” to believe that sexual violence took place during the Hamas-led incursion into Israel, including rape and gang rape in at least three locations: the site of the Hamas festival Nova music and its surroundings, as well as Route 232 and Kibbutz Re’im.

“In most of these incidents, the victims who were first raped were later killed, and at least two incidents involved the rape of female corpses,” the report said.

The UN report, which also cites allegations that Palestinians detained by Israel were also victims of sexual abuse, was published three months after The New York Times published a detailed report on sexual violence during the attack carried out by Hamas, including several incidents along Route 232. Leaders have denied these accusations, and the UN report, citing the large number of fighters who took part in the attack on 7 October, said their experts could not determine who was responsible for the sexual assaults.

In their report, the U.N. experts cited indications of sexual violence that had not been widely reported before, including the rape of a woman outside an air raid shelter at the entrance to Kibbutz Re’im. This incident was corroborated by witness accounts and digital material, according to the report.

Experts said they also discovered “a number of victims, mostly women, found fully or partially naked, bound and shot in several locations.” Even if the evidence was circumstantial, they said, the pattern could indicate some form of sexual violence and torture.

Regarding hostages captured in Israel and taken to Gaza, the report offers a more conclusive conclusion.

It said it found “clear and convincing information” based on direct testimony from released hostages that sexual violence, including rape, sexualized torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, was inflicted on some women and children during their detention. He also said there were reasonable grounds to believe such abuse was being committed against the hostages still being held.

Israel welcomed the report because it recognizes “that the crimes were committed simultaneously in different locations and highlight a pattern of rape, torture and sexual abuse,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.

The U.N. report said its experts could not verify reports of sexual violence at Kibbutz Kfar Aza or Kibbutz Beeri. But in both places, he said, circumstantial information — “notably the recurring pattern of female victims found undressed, bound and shot,” in Kfar Aza, for example — indicated sexual violence, including “potential sexualized torture ”, could have taken place. .

He said two specific allegations of sexual violence at Kibbutz Beeri, widely repeated by the media, were, however, “unfounded.”

First responders told the Times that they found bodies of women with signs of sexual assault on these two kibbutzim, but the Times in its report did not refer to the specific allegations that the U.N. deemed unfounded.

The UN report details the daunting challenges of determining what happened on the day of the attack.

At first, it was almost impossible to gain access to the type of forensic evidence often used to establish sexual assault. This is partly explained by the large number of casualties and the wide dispersion of attack sites.

The report also said that first responders – often untrained volunteers – focused more on search and rescue operations and recovering the dead than on collecting evidence. And many bodies were badly burned, compromising any evidence.

Experts said they had called on Israeli women who survived the October 7 attacks to come forward, but had not spoken directly to anyone. A small number of survivors, they said, are still believed to be receiving treatment for trauma.

They also noted a deep suspicion among Israelis of international organizations like the United Nations, as well as the fact that the team was on the ground for a limited period of two and a half weeks.

“Overall, the mission team believes that the true prevalence of sexual violence during the October 7 attacks and their aftermath may take months, if not years, to emerge and may never be fully known,” the report states.

The report said the UN team also heard accounts of sexual violence against Palestinians involving Israeli security forces and settlers.

Palestinian officials and civil society representatives, he added, denounced to the UN team “the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment inflicted on Palestinians in detention, including various forms of sexual violence under form of invasive body searches, threats of rape and prolonged forced nudity.” as well as sexual harassment and threats of rape, during home searches and at checkpoints.

The UN team called on the Israeli government to provide access to other UN bodies, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry into the territory occupied Palestinian territory, so that they can carry out independent and thorough investigations into these allegations.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat said: “Israel rejects the report’s call to investigate Palestinian allegations of ‘sexual violence perpetrated by Israeli elements.’

Ms Patten had said her trip was not to investigate – other UN agencies have that mandate, she said – but to “give voice” to victims and survivors and find ways to offer them support, including justice and accountability.

The UN team included technical experts capable of interpreting forensic evidence, analyzing open-source digital information and conducting interviews with victims and witnesses of sexual violence, the report said.

Ms Patten said one of the challenges UN experts faced was sifting through the lack of reliable information and inaccurate accounts from untrained people.

“On the one hand,” she says, “we have the fog of war which often silences the motives of sexual violence. But we have also seen cases in the history of war where sexual violence can be weaponized.