BOSTON: US president Joe Biden said on Tuesday that Hamas had repeatedly raped women and mutilated their bodies during its Oct 7 assault on southern Israel, citing survivors and witnesses of the attacks.
Speaking at a political fundraiser in Boston, Biden said accounts of “unimaginable cruelty” had been shared over the past few weeks.
“Reports of women raped — repeatedly raped — and their bodies being mutilated while still alive, of women’s corpses being desecrated, Hamas terrorists inflicting as much pain and suffering on women and girls as possible and then murdering them. It is appalling,” Biden said.
The president called on international organisations, civil society and individuals to condemn sexual violence “without exception.”
Israeli police are investigating possible sexual crimes by some of the few hundred people that they arrested after the Oct 7 attack. Israel’s justice ministry has said “victims were tortured, physically abused, raped, burned alive, and dismembered.”
Hamas vigorously denies the allegations of sexual assault or mutilation by members of its armed wing on Oct 7 or after that.
Israel held an event at the UN in New York on Monday focused on sexual violence against women during the Oct 7 attack. Israel has been critical of the world body’s response to the attacks.
“As a global community we must respond to weaponised sexual violence, wherever it happens, with absolute condemnation. There can be no justification and no excuses. Rape as a weapon of war is a crime against humanity,” former US state secretary Hillary Clinton told the event in a pre-recorded video.
On Tuesday, Biden blamed Hamas for the collapse of a truce last week that had halted Israel’s retaliatory military campaign against Gaza, saying the group’s “refusal to release the remaining young women is what broke this deal”.
Israel and Hamas have accused each other of wrecking negotiations to extend the week-long pause in fighting, which resumed on Dec 1.
Since then, Israeli forces have expanded their ground operations on Hamas-run Gaza and stormed its main southern city. Gaza health officials say 16,248 people have been killed in Israel’s attacks.
Hamas fighters who rampaged through Israeli towns on Oct 7 killed 1,200 people and seized 240 hostages, according to Israel’s tally. More than 100 hostages were freed during the truce.
During the fundraiser, Biden said: “Everyone still being held hostage by Hamas need to be returned to their families immediately. We’re not going to stop.”