The UN envoy focusing on sexual violence in conflict has said there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Hamas committed rape, “sexualised torture” and other cruel and inhumane treatment of women during its attack on southern Israel on October 7.

There are also “reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing”, said Pramila Patten, who visited Israel and the West Bank from January 29 to February 14 with a nine-member team.

In a report, she said the team “found clear and convincing information” that some hostages have been subjected to conflict-related sexual violence including rape and “sexualised torture”.

The report comes nearly five months after the October 7 attacks which left about 1,200 people dead and 250 others taken hostage.

Israel’s war against Hamas has since laid waste to the Gaza Strip, killing more than 30,000 people, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. The UN says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million people face starvation.

The report said the team’s visit “was neither intended nor mandated to be investigative in nature”.

Pramila Patten
Pramila Patten (Alamy/PA)

She said the team was not able to meet any victims of sexual violence, “despite concerted efforts to encourage them to come forward”, but team members held 33 meetings with Israeli institutions and conducted interview with 34 people including survivors and witnesses of the October 7 attacks, released hostages, health providers and others.

Based on the information it gathered, Ms Patten said, “there are reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence occurred during the 7 October attacks in multiple locations across Gaza periphery, including rape and gang rape, in at least three locations”.

Across various locations, the team found “that several fully naked or partially naked bodies from the waist down were recovered – mostly women – with hands tied and shot multiple times, often in the head”.

While this is circumstantial, she said the pattern of undressing and restraining victims “may be indicative of some forms of sexual violence”.

Ms Patten said that at the Nova music festival and its surroundings, “there are reasonable grounds to believe that multiple incidents of sexual violence took place with victims being subjected to rape and/or gang rape and then killed or killed while being raped”.

On Road 232 — the road to leave the festival — “credible information based on witness accounts describe an incident of the rape of two women by armed elements”, Ms Patten said. Other reported rapes could not be verified during their time in Israel.

But she said the mission team “also found a pattern of bound naked or partially naked bodies from the waist down, in some cases tied to structures including trees and poles, along Road 232″.

Mr Patten said that in Kibbutz Reim, the mission team verified the rape of a woman outside a bomb shelter and heard of other allegations of rape that could not be verified.

At Kibbutz Be’eri, the team “was able to determine that at least two allegations of sexual violence widely repeated in the media were unfounded due to either new superseding information or inconsistency in the facts gathered”.

These included a highly publicised allegation that a pregnant woman’s womb was ripped open before being killed with her foetus stabbed inside her, Ms Patten said.