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What we know about rape and sexual violence inflicted by Hamas during its terror attack on Israel

Editor’s Note: The following story includes graphic material. Audience discretion is advised.

Simchat Greyman had to pause several times when describing the evidence of sexual violence he saw when recovering bodies of victims of the October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel.

One body was so severely brutalized that he and his colleagues from ZAKA, the ultra-orthodox Jewish human remains recovery  organization, couldn’t tell whether it was a man or a woman.

Greyman described finding a woman who was shot in the back of her head, lying on her bed, naked from her waist down. A live grenade was planted in her hand.

And then there was the body with the nails.

“I was called into a house, I was told there are few bodies over there. I saw in front of my eyes a woman, laying (down). She was naked and she had nails …,” Greyman managed to say before pausing for a long time, struggling to get the words out.

“She had nails and different objects in her female organs. Her body was brutalized in a way that we could not identify her,” he added, the trauma clearly visible on his face.

Greyman was testifying at a United Nations session on sexual and gender-based violence in the October 7 Hamas terror attack, hosted by Israel at the UN headquarters in New York on Monday.

He was one of several eyewitnesses invited to address the meeting, providing evidence that sexual violence and rape occurred and were weaponized by Hamas during the attacks.

CNN cannot independently verify individual allegations and claims. However, several first responders who attended the scenes of the October 7 attack told CNN the attacks were overwhelmingly gruesome and that some female victims were found undressed.

Personal effects are scattered around the Supernova Music Festival site, where hundreds were killed and dozens taken by Hamas. - Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images/File
Personal effects are scattered around the Supernova Music Festival site, where hundreds were killed and dozens taken by Hamas. - Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images/File

Mounting evidence

The evidence of sexual violence presented during the session at the UN was ample and overwhelming and came from different sources.

While Greyman spoke about his experience from the search and rescue operations, Yael Richert, a superintendent with the Israel Police, shared information gathered during the investigation so far.

She said survivors of the terror attack told investigators they witnessed Hamas terrorists perpetrating sexual violence against the victims. She quoted testimonies of several individuals all of whom either directly witnessed sexual violence or saw clear evidence of it.

“There were girls with broken pelvis due to repetitive rapes, their legs were split wide apart in a split,” Richert quoted one survivor of the Nova music festival massacre as saying.

“We heard girls that were pulled out from the shelters. Girls that shouted. They raped girls. Burnt them just after that. All the bodies outside were burnt,” Richert said, reading from another testimony.

Shari Mendes, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reservist who looked after the bodies of female soldiers killed during the attack, also described the evidence she saw, saying many of the bodies arrived in “bloody shredded rags or just an underwear and their underwear was often very bloody.”

Photographs and videos from the scenes back Mendes’ accounts. A video geolocated by CNN to a neighborhood in Gaza, showed a young, barefoot woman pulled from the trunk of a Jeep by a gunman and then forced into the backseat of the car. Her trousers were soaked with what appeared to be blood.

“Our team commander saw several female soldiers who were shot in their crotch, intimate parts, vagina, or shot in the breast. There seem to be a systematic genital mutilation of a group of victims,” she added.

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, held a separate session on sexual violence last week. One Knesset member, Yulia Malinovsky, accused Hamas of “raping women in order to humiliate” Israel as a nation.

Hamas has repeatedly denied allegations that its fighters committed sexual violence during the attack — despite the evidence.

Israeli and US officials believe that Hamas continues to hold hostage a number of civilian women in their twenties and thirties, despite agreeing it would release all women and children as part of the truce agreement last week. US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that Hamas’ refusal to release them was “what broke this deal and ended the pause in the fighting.”

Difficult investigations

The Israel Police said previously that they had been interrogating suspects, compiling evidence from the scenes of the terror attack and interviewing witnesses as part of their investigation into sexual crimes and other atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7.

While the evidence of sexual violence found on victims’ bodies appeared overwhelming, the police said la st month that its investigators did not have firsthand testimony from survivors and that it was not even clear whether any victims survived.

Since then, dozens of hostages have been released from Gaza as part of a truce between Israel and Hamas and some have also mentioned sexual abuse during their testimonies.

Speaking after a private meeting with some of the released hostages and relatives of those still being held in Gaza on Tuesday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had heard stories of sexual abuse.

“I heard, and you also heard, about sexual abuse and incidents of brutal rape like nothing else,” he told a news conference.

Israeli’s public broadcaster, Channel 11, has obtained and released an audio from the meeting on Tuesday, in which former hostages described their time in captivity.

“They’re touching the girls and everyone knows it,” one of them said.

As well as Israel, several international organizations have vowed to investigate the sexual crimes committed by Hamas. Last week, the chair of a UN commission of inquiry investigating potential war crimes on both sides of the Israel-Hamas war said it will probe accounts of sexual violence allegedly carried out on October 7.

Demonstrators protest outside United Nations headquarters in New York City on December 4, 2023. - Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators protest outside United Nations headquarters in New York City on December 4, 2023. - Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images

International response

Israel has accused international organizations and the media of ignoring the issue.

Netanyahu called out the UN for what he said was a delay in acknowledging the allegations of sexual violence committed by Hamas.

“I heard stories which broke my heart on the torture, both mental and physical,” Netanyahu said at a news conference following his Tuesday meeting with former hostages in Tel Aviv.

The Israeli prime minister added that until a “few days ago” he had not heard the UN or human rights organizations decry the claims of sexual violence.

The UN agency UN Women found itself the primary target of the criticism, with activists calling it out for remaining silent on the issue of Hamas sex crimes and choosing instead to focus on the plight of women in Gaza. UN Women put out a statement on Monday condemning the attacks and saying it was “alarmed by the numerous accounts of gender-based atrocities and sexual violence during those attacks.”

“I say to the women’s rights organizations. I say to the human rights organizations, you have heard of the rape of Israeli women. Horrible atrocities, sexual mutilation. Where the hell are you?” Netanyahu said.

Biden also addressed the issue at a fundraiser in Boston on Tuesday, calling “on all of us — government, international organizations, civil society and businesses — to forcefully condemn the sexual violence of Hamas terrorists without equivocation. Without equivocation, without exception.”

He said that testimonies and reports that have been shared over the past few weeks showed “unimaginable cruelty.”

“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.

CNN’s Niamh Kennedy in London contributed reporting.

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