Police reportedly believe witness testimony provided by a friend of the 16-year-old girl who was allegedly gang raped at an Eilat hotel earlier this month strengthened the case against one of the main suspects.
Law enforcement on Thursday staged a confrontation between the friend, who traveled to Eilat with the alleged victim, and the suspect, who is believed to have been the first to rape the girl at the Red Sea Hotel, according to Friday Hebrew media reports.
The alleged victim’s friend stuck to her version of the incident during the confrontation, and investigators deemed her testimony credible and a clear description of the night’s events, the Ynet news site reported.
The witness said her and her friend booked a room at a different hotel in the coastal city on the evening of the alleged incident, but were invited to the Red Sea Hotel, where several of their friends were staying. The witness said her friend drank too much alcohol there and began feeling unwell.
“I took her to the room of a friend, who’s like a brother to me that I trust completely. She was barely responsive [at that point],” she said.
The witness said she then left her friend briefly to buy snacks.
“When I returned to the room I saw a crowd of people. I saw people coming in and out, I banged on the door and no one answered me. I shouted and screamed her name, and there was no answer. Suddenly, a naked man opened the door,” she told police, the reports said.
“I burst inside and saw my friend lying on the bed, unresponsive. I would say almost unconscious. I felt she did not understand what was going on around her. I immediately ran to call for help,” she said.
The alleged victim’s friend said the two of them left Eilat the next day.
“We did not speak [about what happened]. I think we were in shock, traumatized. It took us a while to gather strength. We had to understand what exactly happened to us, or more specifically, what happened to her. We both knew she had to file a police complaint,” the witness said.
She added that her friend vaguely remembers men coming in and out of the room, but she did not know exactly how many there were.
Sources familiar with the investigation told the Ynet news site that, while an initial investigation suggested that as many as 30 men participated in the rape, the number is more likely to be in the single digits.
Police collected security camera footage from the Red Sea Hotel in order to identify additional suspects.
Two suspects in their late 20s from the northern city of Hadera have so far been arrested. According to Channel 12 news, one of the suspects denied involvement.
Channel 13 reported that the 16-year-old told police investigators that she wants to confront her alleged attackers, after hearing that one of the main suspects denied the allegations against him during an interrogation. The supervised interaction is expected to take place over the weekend, the network said.
At the same time, social service workers providing assistance to the alleged victim since the incident told Channel 12 that they are highly concerned about her mental health. They said she is terrified by the possibility that footage of the alleged rape could be released online.
She has been receiving support from her family and was encouraged by the thousands of protesters who took to the streets this week to demonstrate against the attack, the sources said.
Earlier Friday, police increased security around the home of the 16-year-old following what law enforcement said was an increase in “violent online discourse” against the girl over the case.
The case has sent shockwaves throughout Israel, after testimony indicated that a large group of men lined up outside the intoxicated underage girl’s hotel room, patiently waiting their turn to rape her, as eyewitnesses failed to intervene.
The girl’s lawyer, Shani Moran, told Kan news that some people were trying to find out where they could view videos of the alleged rape, which is thought to have been filmed by suspects.
“We demand that the police do everything possible to recover [the videos]. My WhatsApp and email have been flooded with dozens of screenshots of correspondence of people who want to get their hands on the videos due to voyeurism,” Moran said.
Moran also said her client was not in any condition at the time of the alleged assault to determine the number of suspects involved, after the hotel owner said a group of thirty men would have drawn attention.
“She did not see the men outside the room, she was not in a position to stand up,” Moran said. “I am asked about the number 30 — she had no expectation or requirement for the police to reach a round and accurate number of 30 people.”
The 16-year-old reportedly told police on Thursday that one of the men offered to send her videos of the incident. The videos all appear to have been deleted from the suspects’ phones, a Channel 12 report said.
A task force of 20 police investigators hoped to determine on Friday exactly how many men were involved in the alleged attack, and what role each of the suspects played. Police are assuming that some men raped the girl while others stood by and watched or filmed, without helping the girl escape the ordeal, the network reported.
The first suspect was arrested after messages between him and the teenager revealed there was video documentation of the alleged assault. He denied communicating with the girl, saying someone else was using his phone.
The suspect said that more than 30 men had sex with the girl, but that documentation from security cameras would prove that it was not done under duress — that the men stood in line at the entrance to the room while the girl, intoxicated, called for them to come to her.