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Hamas attackers raped women’s corpses, UN finds

Nova festival site of Hamas attack
The report noted some victims found at the Nova festival site had bound hands or were tied to poles and trees - Ohad Zwigenberg/AP

Hamas attackers raped women’s corpses, a UN report has found, citing “clear and convincing” evidence to support multiple accounts of sexual violence.

Pramilla Patten, the UN special envoy on sexual violence and women, said there were “reasonable grounds” to believe Hamas committed “sexualised torture” when they carried out their attack on Israel on Oct 7.

Sexual violence against Israeli hostages being held in Gaza may also be ongoing, the report found.

The report also highlighted allegations of sexual violence against Palestinian women, men and girls that implicated Israeli security forces and settlers in the West Bank.

Reports of violence by Israelis against Palestinians in the West Bank included “beatings, including in the genital areas”, body searches including “unwanted touching of intimate areas” and threats of rape “during house raids – including at night – and at checkpoints”.

“Other concerns raised included the taking and circulating of pictures of [Palestinian] women detainees on personal phones of soldiers and investigators and depriving women of menstruation products,” the UN report noted.

“They also highlighted intimidation, including threats of rape, if conditions of detention were reported or publicly disclosed after liberation.

“While no instances of rape were reported, Palestinian women’s organisations consistently stressed that in addition to intimidation and insecurity, the high level of stigmatisation, conservative cultural norms and the power imbalance in the context of occupation impedes reporting of sexual violence.”

The UN team has asked the Israeli government to allow other UN bodies to conduct thorough independent investigations into the allegations.

Women at music festival were raped, witnesses said

Experts said they had found evidence of attacks including rape and gang rape at the Nova music festival site, the road to leave it, and kibbutz Re’im, near the Gaza border.

“In most of these incidents, victims first subjected to rape were then killed, and at least two incidents relate to the rape of women’s corpses,” the report said.

It comes after the UN faced fierce criticism for being slow to respond to reports of sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas.

Ahead of the report’s release, Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, criticised the UN’s secretary general Antonio Guterres for not convening the security council to discuss the findings.

Mr Katz announced he had recalled the country’s UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, to discuss alleged attempts “to keep quiet the serious UN report on the mass rapes committed by Hamas and its helpers on Oct. 7”.

In a separate statement, Mr Erdan said: “It took the UN five months to finally recognise the shocking sexual crimes committed” by Hamas.

Ms Pratten visited Israel and the West Bank with a nine-member team between January and February.

She said while her team was unable to meet with any rape victims “despite concerted efforts to encourage them to come forward”, they interviewed 34 survivors and witnesses of Oct 7, including released hostages.

Her report highlighted credible sources describing finding murdered victims, mostly women, naked from the waist down, many shot in the head.

The UN mission team found “a pattern” of bound victims, in some cases they were tied to trees or poles along the road leading out of the Nova festival.

Although the evidence was circumstantial, the report said, it could indicate some of form of sexual violence and torture.

Report of womb mutilation ‘unfounded’

Ms Patten said that in kibbutz Re’im, 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.

However, she said her team also determined that at least two allegations of sexual violence in kibbutz Be’eri, and widely repeated in the media, were unfounded.

They made the determination based on “new superseding information or inconsistency in the facts gathered.”

These included a highly publicised allegation that a pregnant woman’s womb was reportedly ripped open before being killed with her fetus stabbed inside her.

“Overall, the mission team is of the view that the true prevalence of sexual violence during the 7 October attacks and their aftermath may take months or years to emerge and may never be fully known,” said the report.