IDF spokesman confirms concern about sexual attacks on hostages

US: Hamas not releasing female hostages so they won’t share ‘what happened to them’

State Department says truce fell apart because terror group refused to free remaining women and kids it abducted, adds ‘no reason to doubt’ reports of sexual violence on October 7

Demonstrators gather during a '#MeToo unless you are a Jew' protest outside of United Nations headquarters in New York City, on December 4, 2023. (Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)
Demonstrators gather during a '#MeToo unless you are a Jew' protest outside of United Nations headquarters in New York City, on December 4, 2023. (Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

WASHINGTON — A US official said Monday that Hamas terrorists likely held back on freeing female hostages, leading to the end of a weeklong ceasefire with Israel, because it did not want them to speak publicly about sexual violence.

Israel and Hamas paused fighting in the Gaza Strip as part of a US- and Qatari-brokered deal to free hostages seized by the terrorists during the devastating onslaught in southern Israel on October 7, when 1,200 people were slaughtered and some 240 abducted.

Israel on Friday said it was resuming its military campaign as Hamas had not released all kidnapped women, after the Gaza-ruling terror group broke the ceasefire by firing rockets into Israel and failing to provide a list of the Israeli hostages it intended to release.

Under the terms of the truce deal, Hamas was to prioritize the release of children and non-soldier women. Israel says 15 women still held by Hamas meet that designation, as well as two children — Ariel Bibas, 4, and Kfir Bibas, 10 months.

“The fact that they continue to hold women hostages, the fact that they continue to hold children hostages, just the fact that it seems one of the reasons they don’t want to turn women over they’ve been holding hostage, and the reason this pause fell apart, is they don’t want those women to be able to talk about what happened to them during their time in custody,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in response to a question about growing evidence of Hamas rape and sexual abuse on October 7.

Miller, citing sensitivities in discussing treatment of captives, declined to give details on the treatment of the women.

But he said that the United States had “no reason to doubt” reports of sexual violence by Hamas.

“There is very little that I would put beyond Hamas when it comes to its treatment of civilians and particularly its treatment of women,” Miller said.

An IDF spokesman, Richard Hecht, confirmed in a briefing to the foreign press: “We are concerned about our ladies’ well-being in captivity.” Asked directly about some families of hostages expressing concern that their loved ones were being sexually mistreated and attacked, Hecht said, “Absolutely, we share that concern.”

A young Israeli woman seen on October 7 in Gaza being taken captive while the seat of her sweatpants was covered in blood remains a hostage in Gaza.

The Foreign Ministry released footage on Monday of a survivor from the massacre at the Re’im music festival testifying to Israeli authorities about a woman she saw being gang-raped by Palestinian terrorists.

Israeli police have also been exploring evidence of sexual violence during the October 7 attack. A senior police officer recently told the Knesset that an inquiry has gathered more than 1,500 testimonies. Allegations include gang rape and post-mortem mutilation.

Miller said that Israel has briefed the United States “extensively” on its finding into the October 7 attack, although US officials were not on the ground making independent assessments.

“But we have seen Hamas commit atrocities both on October 7 and since October 7, and we obviously condemn those atrocities and support Israel’s actions to hold Hamas accountable for them,” Miller said.

Protestors gather outside the UN headquarters in New York City on December 4, 2023, to protest the international community’s perceived silence on sexual violence committed by Hamas terrorists against Israeli women during the October 7 massacre. (Carli Fogel)

Campaigners in Israel have derided what they see as a muted international response to gender-based violence during the attack, with hundreds gathering Monday at the UN for a special session spearhead by the Israeli mission to raise awareness of the sexual crimes committed against women on October 7.

Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, Hamas in a statement Monday rejected accusations of rape and sexual violence as “unfounded lies.”

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said during a separate press conference Monday that, “Hamas is refusing to release civilian women who should have been part of the agreement.”

“It is that refusal by Hamas that has caused the end of the hostage agreement and therefore the end of the pause in hostilities,” he added referring to the seven-day truce that concluded last Friday.

Israeli attacks since October 7 have killed nearly 15,900 people in Gaza, about 70 percent of them women and children, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry. The figures, which cannot be verified independently, do not differentiate between civilians and terrorists. They are also believed to include civilians killed by rockets launched by Palestinian terror groups that landed in Gaza.

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