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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 5 MARCH 2024

UN finds evidence of Hamas sexual violence during October 7 attack; ceasefire talks bogged down

UN finds evidence of Hamas sexual violence during October 7 attack; ceasefire talks bogged down
A visitor looks at a screen projection of 1,500 Israeli victims of the October 7 Hamas attack and the soldiers who were killed in the subsequent fighting in Gaza, National Library of Israel, Jerusalem, 31 January 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / ABIR SULTAN)

The United Nations has found ‘reasonable grounds’ to conclude that Hamas committed sexual violence during its 7 October attack in Israel, and said there were indications such violence continued to be carried out against those being held hostage by the group.

Israel delayed sending a high-level delegation to Cairo for talks on a ceasefire in the war against Hamas for a second day, putting a damper on hopes for an imminent deal. The negotiations are taking place as hunger grows acute in Gaza and with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan less than a week away.

Americans across the political spectrum have less favourable opinions of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority after the onset of the Israeli-Hamas war last year, a Gallup survey found.

US Vice-President Kamala Harris called for a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas as talks drag on over a deal to release hostages taken during the 7 October attacks.

UN finds evidence of sexual violence by Hamas during October 7 attack

The United Nations has found “reasonable grounds” to conclude that Hamas committed sexual violence during its 7 October attack in Israel, and said there were indications such violence continued to be carried out against those being held hostage by the group.

A UN team that investigated the allegations against Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by the US and the European Union, received what it called “clear and convincing information” that women and children held in captivity were subjected to rape, torture and inhumane treatment.

The team reviewed more than 5,000 photos and 50 hours of footage of the attacks, as well as conducting interviews with dozens of Israeli officials. It said the true prevalence of sexual violence during the attack and afterwards “may take months or years to emerge and may never be fully known.

“Across the various locations of the 7 October attacks, the mission 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,” according to the report on Monday led by Pramila Patten, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict.

“Although circumstantial, such a pattern of undressing and restraining of victims may be indicative of some forms of sexual violence.”

Regarding hostages, the mission team said it “found clear and convincing information that some have been subjected to various forms of conflict-related sexual violence including rape and sexualized torture. It also has reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing.”

The war erupted when Hamas, an Iran-backed group, rampaged through southern Israeli communities, killing about 1,200 and capturing 250. More than 30,000 have been killed in Gaza by Israel’s retaliatory air and ground assault, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Gaza ceasefire talks bogged down as hunger and pressure grow

Israel delayed sending a high-level delegation to Cairo for talks on a ceasefire in the war against Hamas for a second day, putting a damper on hopes for an imminent deal.

The US, Egypt and Qatar — the main mediators — are trying to get Israel to pause fighting in Gaza and release Palestinian prisoners in return for Hamas freeing hostages. The talks are also meant to ensure more aid gets into the devastated enclave.

Israel has said it won’t send negotiators to Cairo until Hamas gives it a list of Israeli hostages it intends to release. Israeli media also says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government wants to know about their wellbeing and how many are still alive.

The negotiations are taking place as hunger grows acute in Gaza and with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan less than a week away.  

The conflict has roiled the Middle East, leading to other Iran-supported militias attacking Western ships in the Red Sea and US bases. In one deadly drone assault, an Iraqi group killed three US soldiers in Jordan. 

On Sunday, a Hamas official said an agreement could be reached in a day or two if Israel accepted his organisation’s demands. Some of those are unacceptable, according to Israeli officials, citing Hamas wanting its militants to return to northern Gaza and asking for too high a number of imprisoned Palestinians to be released.

US officials say Israel has essentially agreed to a six-week ceasefire in exchange for some 35 hostages out of the roughly 100 still thought to be alive, a big increase in aid trucks entering the Gaza Strip and the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Even if there’s a truce, Israel insists the war won’t be over. It says it still needs to destroy Hamas’ military infrastructure or else face the risk of future massacres. It continues to say a ground offensive on Rafah, a city in the south of Gaza with more than one million refugees, is necessary to root out the thousands of Hamas fighters encamped there.

Governments, including the US, are pushing Israel to accept a ceasefire to prevent the humanitarian crisis worsening. Last Thursday, more than 100 Gazans were killed when violence — including shooting by Israeli troops — broke out near aid trucks in northern Gaza. Israel says its forces didn’t shoot at the civilians around the trucks; doctors and witnesses in Gaza say they did.

The US and Jordan have taken to air-dropping meals, but officials say it’s too expensive a method to make much difference. Instead, hundreds of trucks need to get through every day, they say. 

Ramadan is likely to start on 10 March. If there is a truce by then, it means that at a time of religious fasting and family gatherings, two million Gazans will be given respite from the violence and gain access to much-needed food and medicine.

Americans in poll sour on both Israel and Palestinian Authority

Americans across the political spectrum have less favourable opinions of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority after the onset of the Israeli-Hamas war last year, a Gallup survey found.

Overall, 58% of Americans have a positive view of Israel, down 10 percentage points since last year and the lowest favourable rating in more than two decades. Views of the Palestinian Authority declined by eight points to 18%, the lowest in nearly a decade.

Still, US sympathies in the Middle East are largely unchanged, with Americans largely taking the side of Israel by a ratio of almost two to one.

At least one demographic bucks that trend. For the first time, Americans under 35 were more likely to say they sympathised with Palestinian Arabs rather than Israelis.

Harris calls for Gaza ceasefire, release of Israeli hostages

US Vice-President Kamala Harris called for a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas as talks drag on over a deal to release hostages taken during the 7 October attacks.

Meanwhile, Benny Gantz, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war Cabinet, travelled to the White House on Monday to discuss the path ahead.

The threat Hamas “poses to the people of Israel must be eliminated”, Harris said on Sunday in Selma, Alabama, adding that too many Palestinian civilians had been caught up in the conflict. “Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire for at least the next six weeks, which is what is currently on the table.”

A ceasefire has been a priority for Palestinian-Americans and progressives who have condemned the killings of civilians in Gaza. Roughly 100,000 voters, or more than 13%, turned in “uncommitted” primary ballots in Michigan after calls by activists. Protesters almost penetrated the security perimeter around the president’s motorcade in San Francisco last month. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Casey Ryder says:

    Awaiting the response of the honourable Minister of International Relations and Co-operation …

    • Ben Harper says:

      John P?

      • John P says:

        This is not surprising, horrifying yes but not surprising. Hamas is a radical terrorist group and mankind’s inhumanity to man never ceases to amaze me. It still however does not justify the scale of the Israeli response and the horrors being visited upon the Palestinian people. As always the only answer going forward is for the horror and killing to stop and both sides to sit down and find a solution that is best for all parties. If Ireland and South Africa could reach a solution then why not Israel and ALL the Palestinian leadership?

      • Mark Parker says:

        Yup the JP K and the “usuals” have got keyboard and connectivity issues

        • John P says:

          Or maybe their probably rational answers are being blocked?

          • Ben Harper says:

            Didn’t you state the events of 7 October were fake? I believe you did

          • John P says:

            @ Ben Harper who loves to be the last comment in a chain so no one can respond to a post.
            “Ben Harper
            6 March 2024 at 05:47
            Didn’t you state the events of 7 October were fake? I believe you did”
            No, at the time I said that there was no independent proof of the worst excesses being claimed and we should wait for further information before quoting things as fact. Some of the claims have already been debunked and others will turn out to be factual as more evidence becomes available.

          • Ben Harper says:

            Backpedaling like an anc politician at the Zondo commission

  • Jeff Robinson says:

    If only there was some provision that restricted participation in government (both in Palestine and Israel … indeed everywhere) to aethiests and women. I promise you, this kind of thing could never come to pass. And YES, I do know that Stalin was an aesthiest; but he did not commit his atrocities in the name of aestheism. Rather, he was beholden to an ideology that he pursued with religious zeal on a par with Osama bin Laden. Hitler was a Roman Catholic and at best a closet aethiest. He ordered that the Nazi belt buckles be emblazoned with “Got mit Uns”. Children of Abraham killing/raping/torturing children of Abraham.

  • Denise Smit says:

    No comment about the accusation that some UN body members were involved in the atrocities? And it is expressed in such a way that it still leaves doubt that it truely occurred . In spite of all the facts presented it is circumstancial evidence? How can one value anything done by the UN anymore?

    • John P says:

      There are accusations that 3 UN members were involved in the Hamas attack, this is still being investigated. There are no accusations that UN members were involved in the sexual violence as far as I am aware. If you have information on this please advise where this comes from.

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