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Israel opens sexual abuse probe into Hamas attacks

Investigations to cover alleged war crimes by militants on Oct. 7, including sexual assaults on women, mutilations after death
A time exposure shows light trails from flares during an Israeli military bombardment of the northern Gaza Strip on Nov. 15 amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas

A time exposure shows light trails from flares during an Israeli military bombardment of the northern Gaza Strip on Nov. 15 amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 15, 2023 04:43 AM GMT
Updated: November 15, 2023 05:21 AM GMT

Israel police's investigation into suspected sexual violence against women by Hamas militants on October 7 involves allegations ranging from gang rape to post-mortem mutilation which could amount to war crimes, but are extremely difficult to document.

Since the Hamas attack, police have been gathering evidence about allegations of sexual violence from witnesses, surveillance footage and the interrogations of Palestinian militants arrested in the aftermath, said David Katz, head of the Lahav 443 criminal investigation unit.

"We have no living victims who said 'we have been raped'," Katz told a press conference on Tuesday, but added, "we have multiple witnesses for several cases".

Without giving a precise figure for the number of cases under investigation, he said the inquiry could take "six to eight months".

Some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed by Hamas militants when they stormed across the border from Gaza on October 7, in the worst attack in Israel's history.

In a photograph released by police of the aftermath of the carnage at a rave site near the Gaza border, the body of a woman can be seen.

Naked from the waist down, she is lying on her back with her legs spread, her bare limbs showing traces of burn marks.

Another image shows a naked woman with her legs spread and her underwear dangling off her foot.

Police also showed journalists on Tuesday a videotaped interview with a young woman survivor of the Supernova rave party near the Gaza border, who witnessed another woman being gang raped, and murdered.

"They bent her over and I realized they were raping her, one by one. Then they passed her to a man in uniform. She was alive. Standing up and bleeding from her backside.

"They were holding her by the hair. One man shot her in the head as he was raping her, while he had his trousers down," she told the investigator saying they had "cut her breast off" before killing her.

"The vast majority of victims of rape and other sexual assaults on October 7, including genital mutilation, were murdered and will never be able to testify of what has been done to them," said Cochav Elkayam Levy, head of a parliamentary commission on crimes against women during the Hamas attack.

Israel police spokesman Dean Elsdunne said forensic examinations were carried out "in the combat zone" on bodies that were recovered and then taken to Shura military base near Tel Aviv.

"We know... from the bodies we saw on the field, that there were rapes and sexual assaults," he told reporters, saying investigators had gathered evidence "visuals and DNA evidence", with more "detailed photos" taken when the bodies arrived at Shura.

During the assault, "hundreds" of bodies were very badly disfigured, police say.

Vowing to crush Hamas after the attacks, Israel has bombarded Gaza killing some 11,240 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

Just days after the event, ZAKA volunteers, who recover human remains in accordance with Jewish religious law to afford them a proper burial, spoke of evidence suggesting the Hamas militants had committed rape.

Israeli officials also made similar claims.

At the victim identification center at Shura base, Alon Oz, who is in charge of identifying the remains of "hundreds of soldiers", told AFP he had seen evidence of "women burnt with their hands and feet bound".

"I saw gunshot wounds to private parts, (injuries from) bursts of gunfire, shots to finish someone off, a missing head and missing limbs," he told AFP, saying male soldiers had suffered similar injuries.

At Shura, one woman staffer responsible for washing and preparing the body told AFP some women soldiers had been brought in with "very bloody underwear".

"Other people on our team saw limbs that were broken, legs and pelvises," said the staffer, who asked to be identified as Sherry.

When the militants stormed over the border, they quickly reached an Israeli base dedicated to surveilling the border which is entirely staffed by women soldiers.

Several women, both those working and those off-duty, were abducted there, according to survivor testimonies.

One of them briefly appears in a video released by Hamas, being dragged by her hair behind a vehicle in Gaza with injuries around her ankles and dark stains on the seat of her trousers.

The police investigator Katz said although they cannot prove Hamas gave specific instructions concerning the rapes, "everything was systematic.. nothing was done by coincidence".

And the families of some 240 hostages seized by Hamas -- of whom at least a third are women and girls, according to an AFP count -- are terrified by fears of what their loved ones may be going through.

Images of the nearly-naked body of 22-year-old German-Israeli Shani Louk seen lying in the back of a pick-up truck in Gaza filled with armed men have created an atmosphere of panic.

Some 30 child hostages remain in the hands of Hamas militants in Gaza, according to an AFP count.

A protocol has already been put in place for hospitals likely to receive women hostages, which was put together with the involvement of women's associations specializing in rape victims.

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