Middle East crisis: Biden expresses hope in ceasefire talks, but Hamas appears to reject latest offer

In the latest sign of rising tensions with the United Nations, Israel has recalled its ambassador, claiming Tuesday that the U.N. chief was not taking steps to address a new report that found signs that sexual violence was committed during the Hamas-led conflict in October. .7 attack on Israel.

The UN report released on Monday, which was widely welcomed in Israel, found “reasonable grounds” to believe that sexual violence had occurred in at least three locations, and “clear and convincing information” that hostages had been subdued. to sexual violence, including rape. . He said abuses against hostages still being held in the Gaza Strip could continue.

In a social media post, Israel Katz, Israel’s foreign minister, criticized UN Secretary-General António Guterres for not immediately convening the Security Council to discuss the report and declare Hamas a terrorist organization. However, the authority to convene the Security Council does not rest with Guterres but with the president and members of the Council, according to the UN statutes.

Katz said he had called U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan for consultations in protest of what he said was a concerted effort by Guterres to “forget the report and avoid making the necessary decisions.” Erdan was on a plane returning to Israel on Tuesday, he said.

A UN spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, rejected the claim, stating that “In no way did the secretary general do anything to ‘bury’ the report.”

Dujarric also expressed surprise at the timing of Katz’s comments.

“That announcement accusing the secretary general of trying to bury a report was made literally an hour, two hours, before the press conference to present the report,” he said.

Whatever the skirmishes between Israeli and UN leaders, the report was welcomed by many in Israel.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog saying that the report was “of immense importance” and praised it for its “moral clarity and integrity.”

The Hostage Families Forum said in a statement that the report made it “clearly obvious that the hostages are going through hell every moment, every minute,” and warned that the people of Israel will not forgive Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the cabinet. If not, bring them home.

Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, a law professor at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University and women’s rights activist, said Tuesday that she was confused by the decision to recall the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. The UN report, she said, “serves as confirmation at the highest level of the fact that sexual violence and gender atrocities were, in fact, part of the Hamas attack on October 7.”

But tensions have been rising between Israel and the United Nations, which Israel widely distrusts.

Guterres has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and has been pushing for an immediate, binding ceasefire, as well as the release of hostages taken during the October 7 attacks.

Israel has accused about 30 employees of UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, of being involved in those attacks, and the head of the agency said Tuesday that Israel was trying to undermine their operations. And Mr. Erdan before called on Guterres to resign over his comments condemning the “collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

The U.N. report was based on information collected in Israel and the occupied West Bank by a team of experts led by Pramila Patten, special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict.

The UN report details significant challenges in determining what happened on the day of the attack. The report said it was nearly impossible to review the type of forensic evidence often used to establish a sexual assault, and noted a deep reserve of suspicion among Israelis toward international organizations such as the United Nations.

Noting that a number of fighters from Hamas and other groups were involved in the attack, the report said its experts were unable to determine who was responsible for the sexual assaults.

In the past, Israeli activists have expressed frustration over what they saw as a slow United Nations response to accounts of sexual assault during the October 7 attack. On Tuesday, President Herzog’s wife, Michal, said on Israeli radio that the report was “the first time in five months that a senior UN official supports what we have been stating in recent months.”

Hamas has repeatedly rejected accusations that its fighters had committed sexual violence as part of the October 7 attack. On Tuesday, a senior Hamas leader in Beirut, Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, called the UN report “false” and claimed it had been “written by the Israelis.” He called on the UN to fire Ms Patten.

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.