Harris meets with former Israeli hostage who described being sexually assaulted in Gaza

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about conflict sexual violence before a screening of "Screams Before Silence," in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Monday, June 17, 2024. The presenter-led documentary film with Sheryl Sandberg, former COO of Meta, is about the rape and mutilation of Israeli women on Oct. 7. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON – Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday met with an Israeli lawyer who has publicly described being sexually assaulted while held hostage in Gaza, and said the story left her fearing more such accounts “will only increase as more hostages are released.”

Harris hosted an event highlighting efforts to reduce conflict-related sexual violence around the world and said she'd spoken with Amit Soussana, who was abducted from her home when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

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Soussana detailed for The New York Times being sexually assaulted while held in Gaza, before she was released, along with a group of other hostages, during a November ceasefire that briefly suspended fighting between Israel and Hamas.

Harris said that after Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, “I saw images of bloody Israeli women abducted."

"Then it came to light that Hamas committed rape and gang rape at the Nova music festival,” the vice president said, referring to the Tribe of Nova music that was overrun by Hamas militants. “And women’s bodies were found naked from the waist down, hands tied behind their back and shot in the head.”

Such accounts of atrocities are not new, but Harris detailing accusations of sexual violence surrounding the Israel-Hamas war comes as the Biden administration is working to broker another ceasefire to pause the fighting in Gaza.

Harris on Monday urged Hamas to accept a U.S.-backed ceasefire proposal. She also said she heard stories from former Israeli hostages about what they “witnessed and heard in captivity,” and spoke with Soussana, who the vice president said “has bravely come forward with her account of sexual violence while she was held captive by Hamas.”

“These testimonies, I fear, will only increase as more hostages are released,” Harris said. “We cannot look away. And we will not be silent.”

Hamas has denied sexually assaulting people during the Oct. 7, 2024, attack, or the hostages it has held since, and false reports of abuse have sometimes helped fueled the conflict between the militant group and Israel.

But a United Nations report released in March found “reasonable grounds” to believe Hamas committed rape, “sexualized torture,” and other cruel and inhumane treatment of women during its Oct. 7, 2024, attack. The same report found there are “reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing.”

The vice president also said her "heart breaks for all these survivors and their families, and for all the pain and suffering over the last eight months in Israel and in Gaza.”

Harris said “sexual violence has been a tactic of war since ancient times,” though she noted that the international community has made recent progress recognizing it “as an attack on peace, stability and human rights.”

She said that the Biden administration had worked to prevent such violence by doing things like providing rape kits and heath care for survivors and helping to train militaries and back international peacekeepers. The U.S. has also imposed economic sanctions on individuals associated with conflicts in places like Iraq, Sudan and the Central African Republic.

“It's not enough. The crimes persist and, globally, our system of accountability remains inadequate," Harris said. "More must be done.”

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