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UN team says sexual violence likely occurred during Hamas attack on Israel

A United Nations expert team released findings on Monday indicating “reasonable grounds to believe” incidents of sexual violence, including rape and gang rape, took place at multiple sites during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants.

Led by U.N. special envoy for sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, the team visited Israel from Jan. 29 to Feb. 14, aimed at gathering, analyzing, and verifying information regarding sexual violence linked to the Oct. 7 attacks.

The 24-page U.N. report stated, “Credible circumstantial information, which may be indicative of some forms of sexual violence, including genital mutilation, sexualized torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, was also gathered.”

Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, has consistently denied accusations of sexual violence.

During the Oct. 7 attack, Hamas fighters reportedly killed approximately 1,200 people and seized 253 hostages, according to Israeli reports. In response, Israel launched retaliatory strikes against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, resulting in the deaths of approximately 30,000 Palestinians, according to health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave.

The U.N. report said, “The mission team found clear and convincing information that some hostages taken to Gaza have been subjected to various forms of conflict-related sexual violence and has reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing.”

A comprehensive investigation would be necessary to ascertain the full extent, breadth, and specific accountability for the sexual violence, according to the U.N. team.

Additionally, the team received reports from institutional and civil society sources, along with conducting direct interviews, regarding “sexual violence against Palestinian men and women in detention settings, during house raids, and at checkpoints” post-Oct. 7. These detention centers were located in Israel.

The U.N. team raised these allegations with the Israeli Ministry of Justice and Military Advocate General, who stated that no complaints of sexual violence against members of the Israeli Defense Forces had been filed.

Israel has voiced criticism of the U.N.'s response to the Oct. 7 attacks. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last year that sexual violence during the conflict “must be vigorously investigated and prosecuted,” emphasizing condemnation of gender-based violence “anytime, anywhere.”

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, Israel's U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan remarked, “The U.N. claims to care about women, yet as we speak right now Israeli women are being raped and abused by Hamas terrorists. Where is the U.N.'s voice? Where is your voice?”

He called for relentless pressure on Hamas to halt sexual violence and immediately release all hostages.

(Inputs from Reuters)

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