WHO says Palestinian Children ‘Dying of Starvation’ in Northern Gaza; UN Team Finds ‘Reasonable Grounds’ for Reports of Sexual Violence Against Israelis on 7 October 
WHO surveys destruction around northern Gaza hospitals last week, in one of the first relief missions to reach the area in over a month.

A United Nations report released Monday said there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that multiple incidents of sexual violence, including rape and gang rape of Israeli women, occurred during the Hamas-led incursion into some 22 Israeli communities near the Gaza border on 7 October. More than 1,200 people were killed in the incident, mostly civilians. 

Meanwhile, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described “grim findings” of severe malnutrition and  “children dying of starvation” during the first World Health Organization visit to a children’s hospital in northern Gaza since October 2023. He appealed to Israel to permit more regular deliveries of humanitarian aid to the area, still cordoned off by Israeli troops to supply routes from the south.   

“Kamal Adwan Hospital is the only paediatrics hospital in the north of Gaza, and is overwhelmed with patients. The lack of food resulted in the deaths of 10 children. The lack of electricity poses a serious threat to patient care, especially in critical areas like the intensive care unit and the neonatal unit,” Tedros said in a statement posted on X

“We managed to deliver 9,500 litres of fuel to each hospital, and some essential medical supplies. This is a fraction of the urgent lifesaving needs,” said Tedros, referring to a parallel relief mission to Al Awda hospital in northern Gaza’s Jabalya neighbourhood.

“We appeal to Israel to ensure humanitarian aid can be delivered safely and regularly,” Tedros said. 

In just the past several days, WHO teams also managed to access northern Al Shifa hospital, the biggest health facility in the Gazan enclave, for the first time in over a month, delivering 19,000 litres of fuel and treatments for 50 children suffering from acute malnutrition.  

“The level of destruction around the hospital is beyond words. Ceasefire,” Tedros said in another statement.

“Hospitals in Gaza continue to face severe disruptions in providing health care,” reported the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Tuesday.

In most incidents, Israeli victims were raped, then killed

Aerial view of one of the sites of the October 7, 2023 assault by Hamas gunmen on the Nova music festival near Kibbutz Re’im in southern Israel along the Gaza border, where a UN mission said it found credible reports of sexual violence against some of the festival-goers and other Israeli victims of the day’s attacks.

In terms of the UN mission report on sexual violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank, released Monday, the expert team that made a two-week visit from 29 January to 14 February, described “a pattern of victims, mostly women, found fully or partially naked, bound, and shot across multiple locations” in the wake of the 7 October Hamas attack. 

The best evidence of the assaults emerged from victims found around the site of the all-night Nova music festival close to the border, which was overwhelmed early Saturday morning by swarms of Hamas-led fighters; along a major regional road, Route 232, by which festival goers tried to escape, and at Kibbutz Re’im, stated the report of the expert team, led by UN Under-Secretary General and Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten. 

With respect to the 253 Israeli and foreign hostages initially taken to Gaza, some of whom have since been released, the mission team found “clear and convincing information that some have been subjected to various forms of conflict-related sexual violence including rape and sexualised torture and sexualised cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and it also has reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing.”

In visits to the West Bank, the UN team also interviewed representatives of the governing Palestinian Authority, as well as Palestinian civil society and several detainees.

“Stakeholders raised concerns about cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of Palestinians in detention, including the increased use of various forms of sexual violence, namely invasive body searches; threats of rape; and prolonged forced nudity,” the team stated.  

Other UN entities are now investigating those allegations further, it said, adding that “since 7 October 2023, the detaining authorities have severely limited the access of independent humanitarian bodies to detention facilities to monitor the conditions of detention and address any abuses.”  

‘Limited survivor and witness testimony due to large number of casualties

In terms of the 7 October violence, the expert team that visited Israel also cited “credible” witness testimony and digital phone or camera evidence for some of the rape incidents, including at Kibbutz Re’im and along Route 232. 

The team acknowledged, however, that there was  “limited survivor and witness testimony … due to the large number of casualties and dispersed crime scenes in the context of persistent hostilities … the prioritisation of rescue operations and the recovery, identification, and burial of the deceased in accordance with religious practices, over the collection of forensic evidence. 

“Further, a significant number of the recovered bodies had suffered destructive burn damage, which made the identification of potential crimes of sexual violence impossible.”

Key findings included: 

  • “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. Credible sources described finding five murdered individuals, mostly women, whose bodies were naked from their waist down – and some totally naked – tied with their hands behind their backs, many of whom were shot in the head.   
  • “On Road 232, credible information based on witness accounts describe an incident of the rape of two women by armed elements… 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. 

In the case of several other border communities, the team said that while it could not verify sexual violence reports, while conceding that “available circumstantial evidence may be indicative of some forms of sexual violence.” 

It said “female victims were found fully or partially naked to the waist down with their hands tied behind their backs and shot,” in the case of Kibbutz Kfar Aza for instance, suggesting  “potential sexualised torture”. 

Hamas denied allegations, Israel welcomed UN report 

Hamas leaders have as previously denied the rape allegations, while the UN report said that it was impossible to pinpoint who was responsible for individual attacks given the diversity of individuals and armed groups that crossed into Israel from Gaza on the day of the attacks.  Israel’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the report for recognising “that the crimes … point to a pattern of rape, torture and sexual abuse.” 

However, the haste and chaos of the Israeli rescue efforts, the natural reluctance of survivors to come forward, and the deep well of Israeli mistrust of UN institutions in the wake of the 7 October Hamas attacks, were all noted as factors impeding the team’s enquiry. 

“Overall, the mission team is of the view that the true prevalence of sexual violence during the 7 October attacks and their aftermath may take months or years to emerge and may never be fully known,” said the report.

Image Credits: Times of Israel , WHO .

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