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UN envoy says allegations of sexual violence committed against Israeli hostages doesn’t justify attacks on Gaza

NEW YORK: The UN envoy focusing on sexual violence in conflict warned Israel on Monday that the finding of “clear and convincing information” that some hostages taken by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel were subjected to sexual violence “does not in any way legitimize further hostilities.”
“In fact, it creates a moral imperative for a humanitarian ceasefire to end the unspeakable suffering imposed on Palestinian civilians in Gaza and bring about the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages,” Pramila Patten told the UN Security Council where Israel’s foreign minister was also sitting and listening.
“Continuation of hostilities can, in no way, protect them,” she said. “It can only expose them to further risk of violence, including sexual violence.”
Patten was speaking at a council meeting sought by Israel and called by the United States, United Kingdom and France to focus on her recent report, which also found “reasonable grounds” to believe Hamas committed rape, sexualized torture, and other cruel and inhumane acts against women during the Oct. 7 attack that killed about 1,200 people and led to 250 others being taken hostage.
She told the council that the 134 hostages still in captivity and the more than 2 million civilians in Gaza “share a common fate. For their common sake, there must be a humanitarian ceasefire now.” Israel’s ongoing offensive against Hamas has killed over 30,000 people, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz said he came to the council “to protest as loud as I can against the crimes against humanity” committed by Hamas in order to deter and scare Israeli society.
He strongly criticized the Security Council’s failure in over 40 meetings since Oct. 7 to condemn Hamas’ actions, saying the UN’s most powerful body should declare the extremist group a terrorist organization and pressure it to immediately release the hostages.
In a statement that surprised some diplomats, Katz noted that Monday was the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and said: “Let me take this opportunity to bless our Muslim brothers: Ramadan Kareem.” That means have a blessed or generous Ramadan.
“Hamas is not speaking on behalf of the Muslim world,” Katz said, “and we are asking you to condemn the sexual violence crimes that these barbarians committed in the name of the Muslim religion.”
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, told the council that Muslims around the world are celebrating Ramadan but “in Gaza, death and suffering can be found everywhere. Food and hope can be found nowhere.”
He told the council that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t want a ceasefire because his “political survival requires for the onslaught to continue.”
Israel’s objective, Mansour said, “remains the forcible displacement of our people by making Gaza unlivable.”
He expressed hope that the Security Council, which showed an “unprecedented” reaction to Patten’s report by convening a meeting within a week, would respond equally to reports of sexual assault against Palestinian women and girls, men and boys.
Patten’s 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” by Hamas.
Mansour said the Palestinians would welcome these investigations and challenged Israel “to make a similar declaration of welcome.” He also invited Patten to visit Gaza and see for herself the plight of Palestinians.
Patten told the council that when she visited the West Bank she didn’t receive any reports of rape, but instances of sexual violence during the detention of both Palestinian men and women were raised.
These included invasive body searches, unwanted touching of intimate areas, beatings in the genital areas, threats to men of rape against their women family members, “and inappropriate strip searches and prolonged forced nudity of detainees,” she said.
Patten said she raised these reports with Israeli authorities, who provided her with information on their protocols to prevent such acts and “indicated willingness to investigate any alleged breaches.”
She expressed disappointment “that the immediate reaction to my report by some political actors was not to open inquiries into those alleged incidents, but rather to reject them outright via social media.” She did not name any of these “political actors.”