Israeli rape crisis centres demand UN action over Oct. 7 attacks


JERUSALEM, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Israeli rape crisis centres called on the United Nations and other international bodies on Wednesday to address what they called the "systematic, targeted sexual abuse" of women during the Hamas-led assault on southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Presenting what the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel said was the first comprehensive survey of the multiple accounts of sexual violence carried out during the attack, executive director Orit Sulitzeanu said the report "leaves no room for denial or disregard."

"Silence is no longer an option. We expect international organizations to take a clear stance; we cannot stand on the sidelines," she said in a statement.

Israel has long criticised U.N. bodies for not speaking out on the evidence of rape and other forms of sexual assault during the Oct. 7 attack and it has refused to cooperate with a commission of inquiry, accusing it of bias.

The 35-page report is based on the association's analysis of information it gathered, interviews with witnesses, first responders and medical officials, and articles published by news media including Reuters, The New York Times, the BBC and Israeli outlets such as Haaretz.

It includes harrowing accounts of violent rape and assault in different locations that it said pointed to a "a clear operational strategy involving systematic, targeted sexual abuse" aimed at terrorising and humiliating victims.

Hamas denies its fighters carried out sexual crimes during their assault on a string of communities close to Gaza.

The report was presented to Pramila Patten, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, who visited Israel last month. Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Evidence about sexual violence reported by Reuters includes testimonies from first responders at the sites of the attacks as well as military reservists who tended to the bodies in the identification process. Reuters has seen photos corroborating some of those accounts.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Maayan Lubell, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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