Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday forcefully condemned sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas during the October 7 attack and blasted those who have not forcefully condemned it or were slow to do so.
“I don’t know why countries, leaders, international organizations were so slow to focus on this, to bring it to people’s attention. I’m glad it is finally happening,” Blinken told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.” “The atrocities that we saw on October 7 are almost beyond human description or beyond our capacity to digest. And we’ve talked about them before, but the sexual violence that we saw on October 7 is beyond anything that I’ve seen either.”
The United Nations heard testimony about allegations of sexual and gender-based violence by Hamas at a panel hosted by Israel at the UN headquarters in New York last week. Several speakers reiterated that some human rights groups such as UN Women were too slow to condemn the alleged rape and sexual violence.
Asked by Tapper why the United Nations and the international community have been so slow to respond to the allegations, Blinken said, “I think it is a question that these organizations, these countries need to ask themselves.”
House Democrats are planning to introduce a resolution condemning Hamas’ use of sexual violence and rape against Israeli women after they were dismayed by the response to the allegations from some lawmakers on the left, including Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
Israeli police are interrogating suspects and compiling evidence, including video, forensics and witness testimony, to investigate accusations of rape during the attacks. Witnesses to the aftermath of the attacks say women and girls were sexually assaulted, tortured and killed.
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.
Hamas denied that its militants committed rape during the attacks in a statement last week on Telegram and decried what it called “the coordination of some Western media outlets with the Zionist misleading campaigns that promote unfounded lies and allegations aimed at demonizing the Palestinian resistance… .”
Organizers of the UN meeting refuted that denial by showing mounting evidence that rape occurred during the attacks on October 7, including graphic video footage of bodies, videos of Hamas fighters admitting under interrogation that rape occurred and testimony from Israeli police officers and witnesses to the attack and its aftermath. Speakers who prepared bodies for burial described evidence that militants gang raped some victims and purposely shot or mutilated victims in genital regions.
Blinken warns Israel
The top US diplomat also warned that as Israel continues its operations in southern Gaza, more needs to be done to protect civilians and provide humanitarian aid.
More than 17,000 people have been killed in the territory since October 7, the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza said Saturday.
“Even as Israel has taken additional steps, for example, to designate safe areas in the south, to focus on neighborhoods, not entire cities in terms of evacuating. What we’re not seeing sufficiently is a couple of things. One, making sure that the humanitarian operators who are there – starting with the United Nations performing heroically – that there are deconfliction times, places and routes so that the humanitarians can bring the assistance that’s getting into Gaza to the people who need it,” Blinken told Tapper.
The Israel Defense Forces issued “an urgent appeal” on Saturday for civilians to evacuate from much of the main southern city of Khan Younis amid fierce fighting in the area. It is unclear how many people were aware of the instruction given the lack of communications networks and internet availability in much of Gaza.
The IDF on Sunday said that it had struck more than 250 targets in the past 24 hours, including what it called Hamas military communication sites and tunnels in the Gaza Strip.
According to Hamas, 104 mosques and three historical churches have so far been destroyed. It accused Israel of the destruction of the oldest mosque, the Great Omari, calling it a “heinous and barbaric crime.”
Blinken added that “we need to see the same kind of deconfliction time, pauses, designated routes, plural, not just one, and clarity of communication, so that people know when it is safe and where it is safe to move to get out of harm’s way before they go back home. These are the kinds of things we’re working on every single day again to make sure that that gap between intent and result is as narrow as possible.”
When pressed by Tapper on the timeline going forward and whether Israel has told the US how long they think this current phase of operations will last, Blinken said the US has discussions with Israel but wouldn’t provide any further details.
“Israel has to make these decisions,” Blinken said. “Of course everyone wants to see this campaign come to a close as quickly as possible.”
But, he noted, “when the major military operation is over. This is not over.”
“Because we have to have a durable, sustainable peace. And we have to make sure that we’re on the path to a durable sustainable peace,” Blinken said.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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