Middle East crisis Biden expresses hope for ceasefire talks but

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

In the latest sign of rising tensions with the United Nations, Israel recalled its ambassador for consultations and claimed on Tuesday that the U.N. chief had taken no steps to address a new report that found signs of violence during the campaign by Hamas The terrorist attack in October led to sexual violence. 7 Attack on Israel.

The U.N. report released Monday, which was widely welcomed in Israel, found “reasonable reasons” to believe that sexual violence occurred in at least three locations and “clear and convincing information” that hostages suffered sexual violence, including rape, were exposed. It said abuse of hostages still held in Gaza may continue.

In a social media post, Israel's Foreign Minister Israel Katz criticized UN Secretary-General António Guterres for not immediately convening the Security Council to discuss the report and declare Hamas a terrorist organization. However, under the UN statutes, the power to convene the Security Council does not belong to Mr. Guterres, but to the president and the members of the council.

Mr. Katz said he had recalled U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan for consultation to protest what he said was a concerted effort by Mr. Guterres to “forget the report and avoid making the necessary decisions.” Mr. Erdan was on a plane back to Israel on Tuesday, he said.

A UN spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, rejected the claim, saying that “in no way, shape or form, the Secretary-General did anything to 'bury' the report.”

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

“This announcement accusing the secretary-general of trying to cover up a report came literally an hour, two hours before the press conference where the report was presented,” he said.

Despite the disputes between Israeli and UN leaders, the report was welcomed by many in Israel.

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

The Hostage Family Forum said in a statement that the report “makes it blatantly clear that the female hostages are going through hell at every moment and every minute,” and warned that the Israeli people will not forgive Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Cabinet, if this is the case don't bring her home.

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

But tensions are increasing between Israel and the United Nations, which is widely distrusted in Israel.

Mr. Guterres has been an outspoken critic of Israel's military campaign in Gaza, pushing for an immediate and binding ceasefire as well as the release of hostages captured during the Oct. 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 agency's head said Tuesday that Israel was trying to undermine its operations. And Mr. Erdan previously called on Mr. Guterres to resign over comments condemning the “collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

The UN report was based on information collected in Israel and the occupied West Bank by a team of experts led by Pramila Patten, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sexual Violence in Conflict.

The UN report described significant challenges in determining the events on the day of the attack. The report says it is nearly impossible to verify the type of forensic evidence often used to establish sexual assaults, and notes that there is a great deal of distrust among Israelis toward international organizations such as the United Nations.

The report noted that a number of fighters from Hamas and other groups were involved in the attack and said experts could not determine who was responsible for the sexual assaults.

In the past, Israeli activists have expressed frustration over what they say is the United Nations' slow response to reports of sexual assault during the Oct. 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 has endorsed what we have been claiming in recent months.”

Hamas has repeatedly denied allegations that its fighters committed sexual violence in the Oct. 7 attack. On Tuesday, a senior Hamas leader in Beirut, Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, called the UN report “false” and claimed it was “written by the Israelis.” He called on the UN to fire Ms Patten.

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

— Adam Sella reports from Tel Aviv