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Benjamin Netanyahu has accused human rights groups of turning a blind eye to rapes that Israel says were committed by Hamas during the 7 October massacre.

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, the Israeli prime minister accused the international community of playing down the attacks and even ignoring them.

He said he expects “all civilised leaders, governments, nations to speak up against this atrocity”.

“I say to the women’s rights organisations, to the human rights organisations, you’ve heard of the rape of Israeli women, horrible atrocities, sexual mutilation – where the hell are you?” Netanyahu told a news conference on Tuesday, speaking in English to emphasise his point.

US President Joe Biden called the reports of sexual violence “appalling” and urged the world to condemn “horrific accounts of unimaginable cruelty”.

Speaking at a campaign fundraiser in Boston, he called on the world to condemn the acts by Hamas “without equivocation” and “without exception”.

He also stressed that “Hamas’s refusal to release the remaining young women” is what ended a temporary truce and hostage agreement that the US helped broker.

Israel’s justice ministry says “victims were tortured, physically abused, raped, burned alive, and dismembered” however Hamas has rejected all allegations that its gunmen committed sexual assault.

‘Widespread’ sexual violence

A human rights group has reported that rape and sexual violence were “widespread” during Hamas’ 7 October attack on Israel.

A group named Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, which has a long record of advocating for Palestinian civilians in Gaza, 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 organisation, said on Tuesday.

“It is becoming more apparent that the violence perpetrated against women, men and children also included widespread sexual and gender-based crimes.

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

While investigators are still trying to determine the scope of the sexual assaults, many witnesses of the atrocities have spoken out, with some giving harrowing details of terrorists raping, mutilating and murdering women.

Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, after a temporary truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas expired, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, December 1, 2023. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
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Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip

A man hiding in a pit during the assault on a music festival said he heard someone nearby screaming she was being raped.

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An army reservist who was tasked with identifying those killed said some of the women were found wearing only bloodied underwear.

Others said they found women semi-naked, bound, eviscerated, stripped, bruised, shot in the head or torched.

Hamas and other Gaza militant groups killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took more than 240 hostages that day.

Protesters call for the immediate release of Israeli hostages (file image)
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Protesters call for the immediate release of Israeli hostages

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The scene at the site of Nova Festival

Two months after the attack on farming communities and army posts in southern Israel, police are still trying to put together the pieces.

In the immediate aftermath, priority was given to identifying bodies, not to preserving evidence.

Police say they’re combing through 60,000 videos seized from the body cameras of Hamas attackers, from social media and from security cameras as well as 1,000 testimonies to bring the perpetrators to justice.

It has been difficult finding rape survivors, with many victims killed by their attackers.

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This was Emilia’s first day back at school following her release.

Last month, Israel’s police chief presented to the international news media videotaped testimony of a rape witness at the music festival.

Her face blurred, she said she watched militants gang-rape a woman as she lay on the ground.

The woman in the video described watching the militants as she pretended to be dead.

“I couldn’t understand what I saw,” she said.

‘Absolutely concerned’ about sexual violence against hostages

At the Shura military base where victims are being identified, Shari Mendes, a member of the army reserve unit that deals with the identification and religious burial preparation of female soldiers, said some of the women’s bodies came in with little clothing.

“Often women came in in just their underwear,” she said.

“Sometimes we had people who – we just had a torso, okay – or they were very decomposed or they were mutilated.

“I saw very bloody genitals on women.”

Based on open-source information and interviews, the Physicians for Human Rights in Israel report documents incidents at the music festival, homes around the Gaza Strip and an Israeli military base, all attacked by Hamas.

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On Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu and members of his war cabinet held a meeting with recently released hostages and family members of hostages still held in Gaza.

Some of those former hostages shared testimonies of sexual abuse during their time in Gaza, participants said.

Separately, a doctor who treated some of the 110 released hostages said that at least 10 men and women among those freed were sexually assaulted or abused, but did not provide further details.

According to the Israeli military, 138 hostages, including 15 women, are still held by Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza.

Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, a military spokesman, said the army is “absolutely” concerned about sexual violence against female hostages.

Echoing these concerns earlier this week, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said: “It seems that one of the reasons they (Hamas) don’t want to turn women over that they’ve been holding hostage – and the reason this pause fell apart – is that they don’t want these women to be able to talk about what happened to them during their time in custody.”

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Three women killed in brothel in Austria

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Three women killed in brothel in Austria

Police have arrested a man after three women were killed in a brothel in the Austrian capital Vienna.

The women were found with “cuts and stab wounds”, police said.

Police found a fourth woman inside the brothel and she was being questioned by the police as a witness.

A 27-year-old man was arrested in the vicinity of the brothel while carrying a knife, which is suspected to be the weapon.

Police said the suspect is an asylum-seeker from Afghanistan and will be questioned by police later on Saturday.

A witness had discovered traces of blood outside the building, located near the Danube River, and alerted police on Friday evening.

The identities of the three victims remains unclear.

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Brothels are legal in Austria.

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‘Significant progress’ in Paris hostage talks – Israeli media

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'Significant progress' in Paris hostage talks - Israeli media

There has been “significant progress” in hostage talks in Paris, according to Israeli media.

Negotiators have been ramping up efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, in the hope of heading off an Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah where more than one million displaced people are sheltering.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met Egyptian mediators in Cairo to discuss a truce this week on his first visit since December.

A Hamas official said yesterday that the militant group had wrapped up ceasefire talks in Cairo and were waiting to see what mediators bring back from weekend talks with Israel.

It comes after the Gaza’s health ministry said death toll from the nearly five months of war has risen to 29,606. The total number of wounded rose to nearly 70,000.

Speaking on Friday, Hamas political official Osama Hamdan said the militant group has “dealt positively with the proposals and initiatives of the mediators” but that Israel’s position “poses many obstacles to reaching an agreement”.

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He said the Israelis had refused the main demands put forward by Hamas to “stop the aggression, to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, to return displaced people to the north (of Gaza), and to make a real reciprocal deal” on exchanging the Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

Mr Hamdan said his group is sticking to these demands.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the militant group’s demands “delusional”.

Israel wants open-ended control over security and civilian affairs in Gaza, according to a long-awaited post-war plan drawn up by Mr Netanyahu.

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UK and other NATO allies urged to consider conscription as Ukraine war enters third year

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UK and other NATO allies urged to consider conscription as Ukraine war enters third year

Any move to introduce conscription by Britain and other NATO allies would make a difference to Europe’s defences against Russia, Latvia’s foreign minister has said.

Krisjanis Karins said the larger the country, the bigger the difference.

Asked whether he was advocating such a step, the top diplomat told Sky News that he is “happily sharing” with colleagues the experience of his own nation, which reinstated mandatory military service last year in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“We think it’s a very good idea for us,” the foreign minister said, speaking on the sidelines of a recent security conference in Germany.

“I think other NATO allies could consider it as well.”

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Latvia, one of the three Baltic states who are members of the NATO alliance, scrapped conscription almost two decades ago.

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But it decided to reintroduce the draft as part of a plan effectively to double the size of its armed forces – professionals and reserves – to 61,000 by 2032.

“The point of the draft is to beef up capable, equipped and trained reservists,” Mr Karins, a previous Latvian prime minister, said.

“It’s not replacing the professional army. It’s augmenting the professional army.”

Krisjanis Karins said conscription in the UK could be a good idea
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Krisjanis Karins said conscription in the UK could be a good idea

Asked whether he thought it would make a difference if the UK started conscription, the foreign minister said: “I think it would make a difference if any European country [did] – and of course, the larger countries, it would make a bigger difference.”

As for whether this was an idea he was pushing, he said with a smile: “It’s the experience that we have that I’m happily sharing with all of my friends and colleagues.”

But UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, who also spoke to Sky News at the Munich Security Conference last week, sounded less than keen about even training citizens voluntarily – an idea the head of the British Army appears to support – let alone mandatory military service.

“We have a professional army of professional armed forces. It’s really important that they are trained to the highest possible standards,” Mr Shapps said in an interview.

“Everyone knows that in a wartime – First World War, Second World War – scenario, of course, countries have to make other arrangements.

“That’s not the position we’re in now. We have absolutely no plans to do that now. And so that’s not something which is on the agenda currently.”

Latvia will train up to 800 conscripts this year
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Latvia will train up to 800 conscripts this year

Yet a Latvian general explained how conscription is about much more than simply generating fresh boots on the ground – it is also about growing a sense of national service and a desire for each citizen to do their bit to help protect the country.

“Everyone has the right to serve – an obligation to serve – the nation,” said Major General Andis Dilans, the Chief of the Joint Staff of the National Armed Forces, Latvia’s second most senior commander.

“This is really the cornerstone of democracy,” he said in an interview in the Latvian capital Riga.

“Therefore, we looked at this not just as a war-fighting force of the conscription, but looking at the connection between the public and the military in case of crisis, in case of war.”

Sky News was invited to visit a training base in southeast Latvia, close to its border with Belarus, a close Russian ally, where a mix of conscripts and other recruits were going through a three-week basic training course with the National Guard.

The National Guard is a branch of the armed forces that is made up of volunteers. At a time of war, they would offer support to the professional military.

“Bam! Bam! Bam!” the recruits shouted, rifles raised, mimicking the sound of gunshots, as they practised a response to an ambush on a muddy shooting range surrounded by forest.

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British Foreign Secretary Grant Shapps says there are 'absolutely no plans' for conscription
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British Foreign Secretary Grant Shapps says there are ‘absolutely no plans’ for conscription

One group of soldiers provided cover, as a second group moved forward, stopped and then took their turn to provide cover as their colleagues advanced.

Edging close to the site where their pretend enemy had launched the ambush, the troops lobbed an imaginary grenade and hit the ground to brace for what would – if done for real – be a deadly impact, before scrambling forward to press on with their counterattack.

Eduard, 18, was one of seven conscripts among the group of about 20 on the range. All seven were voluntary conscripts, rather than being ordered to serve.

“I think that every man in the world needs to at least try military life,” said Eduard.

Conscripts can choose to go through a solid 11 months of training or stretch it out during five years, in between their civilian lives.

Eduard said he had decided to do the latter so he could continue his studies as well.

As for what he would do if Russia attacked, the young man said: “I will defend my country.”

Maxim, 21, a second conscript, was also enthusiastic about his limited time in uniform.

“I’d recommend that everyone samples the emotions and experiences of military life, then – if they like it – maybe they will seek to join the armed forces full time,” he said.

A total of 39 trainees were going through the basic training course at the Meza Mackevici base of 3rd Latgalian Brigade, National Armed Forces

Split into smaller units of nine to 12 people, they train, eat and sleep together.

Each day starts at 6am and ends at 11pm.

Major General Andis Dilans says everyone has an 'obligation' to serve in the military
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Major General Andis Dilans says everyone has an ‘obligation’ to serve in the military

The trainees sleep on bunkbeds in makeshift dormitories that line a one-storey hangar. A canteen is in a second hanger, serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Each morning, they sing the national anthem on a parade ground before three tall flag poles displaying the colours of Latvia, NATO and Ukraine – the war in that country, a constant reminder of why all three Baltic states are doing so much more to mobilise their people.

One instructor, a professional soldier who was sipping soup from a bowl during his lunchbreak, offered his perspective on conscription.

“I think that the most important thing is to awaken the desire to protect and defend your country,” said Staff Sergeant Gunars Brencis, 36.

“[It is] to awaken the patriots in them so that they have the courage to stand up against the enemy if needed.”

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