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Claims of sexual assault of Palestinian women in Israeli detention credible, UN experts say

United Nations experts have expressed alarm over “credible allegations” by Palestinian women and girls of sexual assault, including rape, while in Israeli detention.

They said that “at least two female Palestinian detainees were reportedly raped while others were threatened with rape and sexual violence”.

The UN experts also noted that the Israeli army allegedly took and posted online photographs of female detainees in “degrading circumstances”.

Reem Alsalem, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, stated that the actual scale of sexual violence might be much higher.

“We might not know for a long time what the actual number of victims are,” Ms Alsalem was quoted as saying by the Guardian.

“We are shocked by reports of the deliberate targeting and extrajudicial killing of Palestinian women and children in places where they sought refuge, or while fleeing. Some of them were reportedly holding white pieces of cloth when they were killed by the Israeli army or affiliated forces,” the experts said.

They also expressed concern that an unknown number of Palestinian women and children, including girls, have reportedly gone missing after contact with the Israeli army in Gaza.

The Israeli government rejected the allegations of sexual violence against Palestinians as “despicable and unfounded claims”, according to Guardian.

“There are disturbing reports of at least one female infant forcibly transferred by the Israeli army into Israel, and of children being separated from their parents, whose whereabouts remain unknown,” they said.

The experts voiced grave concern regarding the indiscriminate arrest of numerous Palestinian women and girls, including activists, reporters, and aid workers, across Gaza and the West Bank starting from 7 October last year.

Many have reportedly faced cruel and humiliating treatment, been deprived of menstrual products, food, and medical supplies, and subjected to severe physical abuse, the experts noted.

There are allegations that, on at least one instance, women held in Gaza were confined in a cage outdoors during rain and cold, without access to food.

The UN experts, which included Ms Alsalem and Francesca Albanese (special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967), Dorothy Estrada Tanck, Claudia Flores, Ivana Krstić, Haina Lu, and Laura Nyirinkindi, said: “Taken together, these alleged acts may constitute grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and amount to serious crimes under international criminal law that could be prosecuted under the Rome Statute.”

They added: “Those responsible for these apparent crimes must be held accountable and victims and their families are entitled to full redress and justice.”

Meanwhile, the US said on Tuesday that it had “strongly” urged Israel to “thoroughly and transparently investigate credible allegations” of human rights violations against Palestinian women and girls in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters that he was aware of the allegations but could not “independently confirm the reports”.

“I will say that we have been clear that civilians and detained individuals must be treated humanely and in accordance with international humanitarian law,” he said. “And that will continue to be our position.”

If you need to seek support for anything sexual that happened to you without your consent you can call Rape Crisis on 0808 500 2222, 24 hours a day, every day of the week.