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Israel demands U.N. investigate charges of sexual violence by Hamas fighters

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We turn now to an aspect of Israel's war with Hamas that Israel says is not getting enough attention.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That is reports of widespread sexual violence in the Hamas attack that started this latest conflict. Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, says the U.N. has been too slow to speak out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GILAD ERDAN: Sadly, the very international bodies that are supposedly the defenders of all women showed that when it comes to Israelis, indifference is acceptable.

INSKEEP: NPR's Michele Kelemen was listening as Israelis made their case at the United Nations. And we should advise you that over the next three or four minutes, we're going to hear some graphic descriptions of sexual violence. Michele, good morning.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are the Israelis saying about some of the things that happened on October 7 when Hamas attacked?

KELEMEN: Well, the Israeli mission to the U.N. brought a policewoman and some rescue workers to speak on Monday, and they brought with them some testimonies from survivors and also some graphic details about the bodies they found in the wake of the Hamas attack. I want you to listen to Police Chief Superintendent Yael Reichert, who read out some testimonies from those who survived an attack on a dance party. And again, I'll just note that this is a very graphic description of the scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YAEL REICHERT: Everything was an apocalypse of corpses. Girls without any clothes on - without tops, without underwear. There were girls with a broken pelvis due to repetitive rapes. Their legs were spread wide apart in a split.

KELEMEN: She played videos of some of the witnesses who survived that attack on the dance party. There was also a short clip that the Israelis say was of captured Hamas fighters talking about rape.

Now, Hamas denies that its fighters were involved in sexual violence, but some of the other speakers at that event at the U.N. said they found, you know, bodies of women naked from the waist down and shot in the back of the head. They found genitals mutilated on many of the bodies. The descriptions were just horrifying.

INSKEEP: Now, Michele, Israel is not just saying that Hamas did these things, but that the United Nations has had little to say or not enough to say about it. How does the U.N. respond?

KELEMEN: U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls the reports appalling. UN Women, which is the part of the U.N. that focuses on women's issues and the one that Ambassador Erdan was criticizing, said that it's deeply shocked by the account. It said that U.N. procedures can appear to be slow-moving but insists that they have been following these reports closely.

Now, all these U.N. officials are also calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. The secretary-general says there's nowhere safe in Gaza right now for Palestinians as Israel responds to the Hamas attack.

INSKEEP: What is the U.S. government saying?

KELEMEN: President Biden says that the world can't look away and must condemn the sexual violence by Hamas, and his administration has even suggested that this issue may have scuttled the hostage deal. Hamas had been releasing women and children in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and a pause in fighting. But that deal collapsed last week, and Biden pointed out that Hamas is still holding some young women, and he said that's what broke the deal. Hamas calls that a lie, but they haven't explained why they're still holding female civilians, including an American, by the way.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen. Thanks for your insights. Really appreciate it.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN'S "THE LETTER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.