UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7

UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7
The report comes nearly five months after the Oct. 7 attacks, which left about 1,200 people dead and some 250 others taken hostage. (AFP/File)
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Updated 05 March 2024
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UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7

UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7

UNITED NATIONS: The UN envoy focusing on sexual violence in conflict said in a new report Monday that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Hamas committed rape, “sexualized torture,” and other cruel and inhumane treatment of women during its surprise attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7.
There are also “reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing,” said Pramila Patten, who visited Israel and the West Bank from Jan. 29 to Feb. 14 with a nine-member technical team.
Based on first-hand accounts of released hostages, she said the team “found clear and convincing information” that some women and children during their captivity were subjected to the same conflict-related sexual violence including rape and “sexualized torture.”
The report comes nearly five months after the Oct. 7 attacks, which left about 1,200 people dead and some 250 others taken hostage. Israel’s war against Hamas has since laid waste to the Gaza Strip, killing more than 30,000 people, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. The UN says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million people face starvation.
Hamas has rejected earlier allegations that its fighters committed sexual assault.
Patten stressed at a press conference launching the report that the team’s visit was not to investigate allegations of sexual violence but to gather, analyze and verify information for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ annual report on sexual violence in conflict and for the UN Security Council.
Her key recommendation is to encourage Israel to grant access to the UN human rights chief and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Palestinian territories and Israel “to carry out full-fledged investigations into the alleged violations” — and she expressed hope the Security Council would do this.
Patten said the team was not able to meet with any victims of sexual violence “despite concerted efforts to encourage them to come forward.” While the number of victims remains unknown, she said, “a small number of those who are undergoing treatment are reportedly experiencing severe mental distress and trauma.”
However, team members held 33 meetings with Israeli institutions and conducted interviews with 34 people including survivors and witnesses of the Oct. 7 attacks, released hostages, health providers and others.
Based on the information it gathered, Patten said, “there are reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence occurred during the 7 October attacks in multiple locations across Gaza periphery, including rape and gang rape, in at least three locations.”
Across various locations, she said, the team found “that several fully naked or partially naked bodies from the waist down were recovered – mostly women – with hands tied and shot multiple times, often in the head.”
While this is circumstantial, she said the pattern of undressing and restraining victims “may be indicative of some forms of sexual violence.”
At the Nova music festival and its surroundings, Patten said, “there are reasonable grounds to believe that multiple incidents of sexual violence took place with victims being subjected to rape and/or gang rape and then killed or killed while being raped.”
“There are further accounts of individuals who witnessed at least two incidents of rape of corpses of women,” Patten said. “Other credible sources at the Nova music festival site described seeing multiple murdered individuals, mostly women, whose bodies were found naked from the waist down, some totally naked,” some shot in the head, some tied to trees or poles with their hands bound.
On Road 232 — the road to leave the festival — “credible information based on witness accounts describe an incident of the rape of two women by armed elements,” Patten said. Other reported rapes and gang rapes couldn’t be verified and require investigation.
“Along this road, several bodies were found with genital injuries, along with injuries to other body parts,” she said. “Discernible patterns of genital mutilation could not be verified at this time but warrant future investigation.”
She said “the mission team also found a pattern of bound naked or partially naked bodies from the waist down, in some cases tied to structures including trees and poles, along Road 232.”
People fleeing the Nova music festival also attempted to escape south and sought shelter in and around kibbutz Reim where Patten said there are “reasonable grounds” to believe sexual violence occurred.
The mission team verified the rape of a woman outside a bomb shelter and heard of other allegations of rape that could not yet be verified.
At Kibbutz Be’eri, Patten said, her team “was able to determine that at least two allegations of sexual violence widely repeated in the media, were unfounded due to either new superseding information or inconsistency in the facts gathered.”
These included a highly publicized allegation that a pregnant woman’s womb was reportedly ripped open before being killed with her fetus stabbed inside her, Patten said.
Another was “the interpretation initially made of the body of a girl found separated from the rest of her family, naked from the waist down,” she said. “It was determined by the mission team that the crime scene had been altered by a bomb squad and the bodies moved, explaining the separation of the body of the girl from the rest of her family.”
Patten said further investigation is needed of allegations, including of bodies found naked and in one case gagged, at kibbutz Be’eri to determine if sexual violence occurred.
At Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Patten said, verification of sexual violence was not possible. But she said “available circumstantial information – notably the recurring pattern of female victims found undressed, bound, and shot – indicates that sexual violence, including potential sexualized torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, may have occurred.”
On Oct. 7, the Nahal Oz Military Base, which operated as a hub for signals intelligence and monitoring of the Gaza perimeter fence, was also breached by Hamas and “a significant number” of male and female soldiers stationed there were killed, and seven young female soldiers were abducted and taken to Gaza, Patten said.
Patten stressed that “the true prevalence of sexual violence during the Oct. 7 attacks and their aftermath may take months or years to emerge and may never be fully known.”


US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones

US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones
Updated 16 sec ago
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US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones

US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones
  • Houthis fired two drones at US Navy and commercial ships in the Red Sea, but they were intercepted by US Navy forces before reaching their objectives
  • Houthis said that the US and UK launched two airstrikes on Bajil District in the western province of Hodeidah

AL-MUKALLA: The US Central Command said its forces destroyed on Tuesday two drones fired by Yemen’s Houthi militia, the latest round of skirmishes between the US-led marine coalition and the Houthis in the Red Sea.

On Tuesday morning, the Houthis fired two drones at US Navy and commercial ships in the Red Sea, but they were intercepted by US Navy forces before reaching their objectives. “There were no injuries or damage reported by U.S., coalition, or commercial ships. It was determined the UAVs presented an imminent threat to U.S., coalition, and merchant vessels in the region,” CENTCOM said in a statement on X on Wednesday morning.

The Houthis said that the US and UK launched two airstrikes on Bajil District in the western province of Hodeidah on Tuesday but provided no information about the targeted locations or if they caused any human or property damage.

Since November, the Houthis have launched hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones at commercial and navy ships in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab Strait, and Gulf of Aden, claiming to be acting in sympathy with Palestinians. In response to the Houthi attacks, the US formed a coalition of marine forces to defend the Red Sea and launched hundreds of airstrikes on Houthi targets in Sanaa, Saada, and other Yemeni areas under Houthi control.


Israel-Hamas talks on Gaza truce ‘stalling’: mediator Qatar

A cloud of smoke erupts down the road as a man drives an animal-drawn cart loaded with jerrycans in Nuseirat in central Gaza.
A cloud of smoke erupts down the road as a man drives an animal-drawn cart loaded with jerrycans in Nuseirat in central Gaza.
Updated 12 min 55 sec ago
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Israel-Hamas talks on Gaza truce ‘stalling’: mediator Qatar

A cloud of smoke erupts down the road as a man drives an animal-drawn cart loaded with jerrycans in Nuseirat in central Gaza.
  • “We are going through a sensitive stage with some stalling, and we are trying as much as possible to address this stalling,” Qatar’s prime minister said

DOHA: Negotiations between Israel and Hamas to secure a truce in Gaza and a release of hostages have stalled, Qatar’s prime minister said on Wednesday.
“We are going through a sensitive stage with some stalling, and we are trying as much as possible to address this stalling,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told a news conference with Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu.
Qatar, with the United States and Egypt, has been engaged in weeks of behind-the-scenes talks to secure a truce in Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Negotiators are trying to “move forward and put an end to the suffering that the people in Gaza are experiencing and returning the hostages,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
The mediators had hoped to secure a ceasefire before the start of Ramadan, but progress repeatedly faltered without any cessation of hostilities in the Muslim holy month which ended last week.
Instead, fears have grown of the months-long war in Gaza spilling over into a regional conflict after Iran’s first-ever direct attack on its arch-foe Israel this weekend.
The Qatari premier said Doha had “warned from the beginning of this war against the expansion of the circle of conflict, and today we see conflicts on different fronts.”
“We constantly call on the international community to assume its responsibilities and stop this war,” he added, saying people of Gaza faced “siege and starvation” with humanitarian aid being used as a “tool for political blackmail.”
The war began when Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel that resulted in about 1,170 deaths, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Israel’s military has waged a retaliatory offensive against Hamas that has killed 33,899 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Palestinian militants seized about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages during the October 7 attack on Israel, but dozens were released during a week-long truce in November.
Israel estimates 129 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.


Hezbollah says targeted Israel base in retaliation for fighters’ killing

Hezbollah says targeted Israel base in retaliation for fighters’ killing
Updated 26 min 45 sec ago
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Hezbollah says targeted Israel base in retaliation for fighters’ killing

Hezbollah says targeted Israel base in retaliation for fighters’ killing
  • Galilee Medical Center in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya said that it had received ‘14 wounded people... including two who are seriously wounded’
  • Hezbollah said the attack came ‘in response to the enemy assassinating a number of resistance fighters in Ain Baal and Shehabiya’

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Hezbollah group said it attacked an Israeli army base on Wednesday, with Israeli medics reporting the strike wounded 14 people, including two seriously, in a northern village.
Israel and Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Hamas ally, have been exchanging near-daily cross-border fire since the Palestinian militant group attacked southern Israel on October 7, triggering war in the Gaza Strip.
But Wednesday’s incident marked the third day in a row that Hezbollah strikes wounded people in Israel, with regional tensions high after Iran launched a direct attack on Israel over the weekend in retaliation for a deadly strike on Tehran’s Damascus consulate.
Hezbollah said it launched “a combined attack with guided missiles and explosive drones on a new military reconnaissance command center in Arab Al-Aramshe,” an Arab-majority village of northern Israel near the Lebanese border.
The Galilee Medical Center in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya said in a statement it had received “14 wounded people... including two who are seriously wounded.”
Hezbollah said the attack came “in response to the enemy assassinating a number of resistance fighters in Ain Baal and Shehabiya” on Tuesday.
According to the Israeli army, “a number of launches from Lebanon were identified crossing into the area of Arab Al-Aramshe,” and Israeli forces struck the sources of the fire.
On Tuesday, Israel said its strikes in south Lebanon killed two local Hezbollah commanders and another operative, with the Iran-backed group saying three of its members were killed as it launched rockets in retaliation.
Local Israeli authorities said three people were wounded in a strike from Lebanon earlier that day.
On Monday, Hezbollah targeted Israeli troops with explosive devices, wounding four soldiers who crossed into Lebanese territory, the first such attack in six months of clashes.
The violence has killed at least 368 people in Lebanon, mostly Hezbollah fighters but also at least 70 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
In Israel, the military says 10 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed near the northern border since hostilities began.
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled their homes on both sides of the border, with the violence fueling fears of all-out conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, which last went to war in 2006.


UN appeals for $2.8 bln for Gaza, West Bank aid

UN appeals for $2.8 bln for Gaza, West Bank aid
Updated 17 April 2024
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UN appeals for $2.8 bln for Gaza, West Bank aid

UN appeals for $2.8 bln for Gaza, West Bank aid
  • $782.1 million will be destined for food aid for 2.2 million people in Gaza

GENEVA: The United Nations appealed on Wednesday for $2.8 billion in funding to assist more than three million people in Gaza and the West Bank until the end of the year, to help ease food shortages and prevent looming famine in Gaza.
A flash appeal published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that sum was needed to help 3.1 million people and “reduce human suffering and prevent further loss of life.”
A major chunk of funding — $782.1 million — will be destined for food aid for 2.2 million people in Gaza and 400,000 people in the West Bank, the appeal said.
More than six months of war have created critical food shortages among Gaza’s Palestinians that in some areas now exceed famine levels, according to the United Nations.
A senior UN aid official said on Tuesday that the United Nations was struggling to prevent famine in the Gaza Strip and while there had been some improvement in coordination with Israel, aid deliveries in the enclave still faced obstacles.
Israel aims to wipe out Hamas in Gaza after a deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel by the Palestinian militant group, in which it killed some 1,200 people and took more than 250 people hostage, according to Israeli tallies.
Gaza health authorities say Israel has killed more than 33,000 people since, in its assault on the enclave.


British envoy says Israel is ‘making a decision to act’ as Iran vows to respond to any incursion

British envoy says Israel is ‘making a decision to act’ as Iran vows to respond to any incursion
Updated 17 April 2024
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British envoy says Israel is ‘making a decision to act’ as Iran vows to respond to any incursion

British envoy says Israel is ‘making a decision to act’ as Iran vows to respond to any incursion
  • Cameron said ‘it’s clear the Israelis are making a decision to act’ against Iran, but he hoped they would do so ‘in a way that is smart as well as tough’
  • Cameron said the main aim of his visit was to refocus attention on the ongoing war in Gaza and the need for a ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas

JERUSALEM: British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Wednesday that Israel “is making a decision to act” in response to Iran’s missile and drone attack over the weekend, while Iran warned that even the “tiniest” invasion of its territory would bring a “massive and harsh” response.
Israel has vowed to respond to Iran’s unprecedented attack without saying when or how, leaving the region bracing for further escalation after months of unrest linked to the ongoing war in Gaza. Israel’s closest allies, including the United States and the United Kingdom — which helped it repel the Iranian attack — are trying to limit any further escalation.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi meanwhile warned Israel against any retaliation as he addressed an annual army parade, which had been relocated to a barracks from its usual route and was not carried live on state TV — possibly because of fears that it could be targeted.
In remarks carried by Iran’s official IRNA news agency, Raisi said Saturday’s attack was a limited one, and that if Iran had wanted to carry out a bigger attack, “nothing would remain from the Zionist regime.”
Adding to the already high tensions, a rocket attack by Lebanon’s Hezbollah wounded six people in an Israeli border town on Wednesday. The Iran-backed militant group said it was a response to the killing of a number of its fighters, including a commander, in Israeli strikes on Lebanon the day before.
Both Cameron and Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock were in Israel on separate visits to meet with top officials on Wednesday. The two European countries, which are among Israel’s closest allies, have urged restraint.
Cameron said “it’s clear the Israelis are making a decision to act” against Iran, but he hoped they would do so “in a way that is smart as well as tough and also does as little as possible to escalate this conflict.” He spoke after meeting with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, whose office is mainly ceremonial.
Cameron said the main aim of his visit was to refocus attention on the ongoing war in Gaza and the need for a ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas.
Baerbock meanwhile called on all sides to prevent the conflict from spreading.
“I will assure our Israeli partners of Germany’s full solidarity,” she said Tuesday. “And we will discuss how a further escalation with more and more violence can be prevented. Because what matters now is to put a stop to Iran without encouraging further escalation.”
The ministers said they would push for further international sanctions on Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he met with both ministers and thanked them for their countries’ support.
“They have all sorts of suggestions and advice. I appreciate that. But I want to be clear: Our decisions we will make ourselves, and the state of Israel will do whatever it needs to defend itself,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
Iran launched hundreds of missiles and drones at Israel over the weekend in response to an apparent Israeli strike on Iran’s embassy compound in Syria on April 1 that killed 12 people, including two Iranian generals.
Israel, with help from the United States, the United Kingdom, neighboring Jordan and other nations, says it successfully intercepted nearly all the missiles and drones. A seven-year-old girl was wounded in the attack, which did not cause any deaths or major damage.
Israel and Iran have waged a shadow war for decades, but the strike over the weekend was the first direct Iranian military attack on Israel.
Regional tensions have soared since the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel launched by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Palestinian armed groups supported by Iran. The attack killed some 1,200 Israelis, and the militants took around 250 hostages. Israel responded with one of the deadliest and most destructive military onslaughts in recent history, killing nearly 34,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials.
Israel has withdrawn most of its forces from Gaza after major offensives that left its two biggest cities — Gaza City and Khan Younis, in ruins. But Israeli officials say the war is not over and that they plan to send ground forces into the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah, where more than half the territory’s population of 2.3 million people have sought refuge from fighting elsewhere.
Hamas is still holding around 130 hostages, a quarter of whom are believed to be dead, and international efforts to broker a ceasefire and hostage release have made little progress.
Hezbollah, another close Iran ally, has traded fire with Israel along the border on a near-daily basis since the war began, in a low-intensity conflict that risks igniting all-out war. Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria have also launched attacks, and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have targeted international shipping in the Red Sea, portraying it as a blockade of Israel.
President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday announced new sanctions on Iran and has worked to coordinate a global rebuke of the attack while urging all sides to de-escalate. US officials said earlier this week that Biden told Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.
Israel appears unlikely to attack Iran directly without US support, but it could resort to more covert methods such as targeting other senior Iranian commanders or Iran-backed groups in other countries, or launching a cyberattack.
It’s unclear how Iran might respond given the heightened tensions. Any miscalculation by either side risks setting off a regional war.