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Joly condemns Hamas rapes of Israeli women after weeks of pressure

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Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly is condemning sexual violence committed by Hamas during its attack on Israel, after weeks of pressure to speak out.

"Using sexual violence as a tactic of war is a crime," Joly wrote Thursday on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Joly made explicit reference to the brutal incursion two months ago by Hamas militants, who killed an estimated 1,200 people.

Canada strongly condemns sexual and gender-based violence, she wrote, "including rape, perpetrated by Hamas against women in Israel on Oct. 7. We believe Israeli women."

Opposition parties have been pressing the government for weeks to condemn the sexual violence by Hamas, at times arguing that it's not enough to simply speak out against violence in general.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told delegates at the party's convention Oct. 14 that "there can be no justification for the torture, murder and sexual violence committed by Hamas."

Two weeks ago in Parliament, ConservativeMP Michelle Rempel Garner called on the governing Liberals to denounce the United Nations for not having condemned Hamas's sexual violence, which the organization ended up doing a week later.

At the time, parliamentary secretary Pam Damoff responded that Canadacondemns Hamas's "actions against women and other civilians."

Conservatives also took aim Thursday at Canada's embassy in Tel Aviv and its mission in Ramallah for a post on social media that the Tories say suggests Palestinians have been victims of sexual violence in the war between Israel and Hamas.

"Sexual (and) gender-based violence impact both Israeli (and) Palestinian women and girls, and also men and boys, in distinct ways," the post reads.

"Canada condemns all use of sexual and gender-based violence as a tactic of war. We advocate for justice for all victims and survivors."

Seven minutes later, the embassy in Israel added that "we must acknowledge that Israeli women and girls have been profoundly impacted by the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. Accounts of brutal sexual violence during the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks are deeply concerning and must be investigated."

Conservative deputy leader Melissa Lantsman pounced on the original post, writing, "You can't even get this right." Added former Conservative senator Linda Frum: "Only one side is using rape as a tactic of war."

Global Affairs Canada acknowledged but did not immediately address a request to clarify the original post.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is demanding the department explain the statement, which it called inaccurate and insensitive.

"Now is not the time for misinformation (and) false moral equivalence. Only one side -- Hamas -- is using rape as a tactic of war," the Canadian group posted on X.

The group also thanked Joly for speaking out. "There is no statute of limitations on demanding accountability for heinous crimes," it wrote.

Israel's embassy in Ottawa opted to focus on Joly's comment over the other posts.

"We do take Melanie Joly's tweet as the valid position that was stated by Canada," a spokeswoman told The Canadian Press.

The government's Thursday statements came four days after Canada's envoy for combatting antisemitism called it an anti-Jewish double standard to question reports of Hamas militants raping Israeli women.

"What we are seeing with the refusal/indifference to believe Jewish women who were sexually assaulted is a clear form of antisemitism," Deborah Lyons wrote Sunday on X, chastising women's groups.

"Non-Jewish and non-Israeli women would not be questioned and challenged in this same way."

In Edmonton, the University of Alberta replaced the head of its sexual assault centre last month for endorsing an open letter that questioned the validity of sexual assault claims against Hamas.

In Israel, women's organizations have been calling on the international community to speak out for weeks, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized other countries Tuesday for not doing so.

Yet police in Israel are still investigating what happened two months ago, after officials prioritized identifying bodies instead of preserving evidence, The Associated Press reported.

Officials say they have found it difficult to find rape survivors because many of the people believed to be victims of such acts were killed by their attackers.

Israeli embassies have shown reporters videos of Hamas atrocities during the Oct. 7 attack. One scene showed the body of a woman with no pants or undergarments, but none of the videos compiled from social media, security cameras and Hamas fighters showed sexual assaults.

The group Physicians for Human Rights Israel, which has a record of advocating for Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip suffering under Israel's longtime blockade of the territory, published an initial assessment in November.

"What we know for sure is that it was more than just one case and it was widespread, in that this happened in more than one location and more than a handful of times," Hadas Ziv, policy and ethics director for the organization, said Tuesday.

"What we don't know and what the police are investigating is whether it was ordered to be done and whether it was systematic."

Hamas has rejected allegations that its gunmen committed sexual assault.

On Dec. 1, UN Women said it condemned Hamas for "numerous accounts of gender-based atrocities and sexual violence during those attacks" on Oct. 7.

"This is why we have called for all accounts of gender-based violence to be duly investigated and prosecuted, with the rights of the victim at the core," the agency wrote.

The agency's statement came after it had already raised the alarm about Palestinian women in the Gaza Strip being displaced and widowed by Israel's bombardment, which the UN says violated international law.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it requested access to Israel and the Palestinian territories to allow it to collect information on the Hamas attack, including sexual violence.

Israel says the office has pre-existing biases against Israel and it will not co-operate with the body.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2023.

-- With files from The Associated Press

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