US official says Hamas trying to hide treatment of women hostages

A U.S. official on Monday said that Hamas is likely holding back from releasing further civilian women the group kidnapped from Israel to prevent testimony on sexual violence committed against them.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller made the remarks during a briefing with the press, echoing the administration’s view that Hamas is to blame for ending a pause in fighting with Israel on Friday by refusing to release women and children the group is holding hostage.

“The fact that it seems one of the reasons they don’t want to turn women over, that they’ve been holding hostage, and the reason this pause fell apart, is they don’t want those women to be able to talk about what happened to them during their time in custody,” Miller said, referring to sexual violence against women.

“Certainly, there is very little that I would put beyond Hamas when it comes to its treatment of civilians, and particularly its treatment of women.”

Israeli officials are investigating and collecting evidence of Hamas committing sexual violence as a tool of war – to include rape, and other grievous atrocities – particularly targeting Israeli women as part of the groups wide-scale assault on Israel on Oct. 7.

Miller said that the Biden administration has no reason to doubt reports of sexual violence against women and others by Hamas, but had not made an independent assessment.

Miller’s statements mark a slight departure from other U.S. officials commenting on the breakdown of a truce agreement reached between Hamas and Israel, and with intensive negotiations to include the U.S., Egypt and Qatar.

Over the course of a seven-day pause in fighting, Hamas released more than 100 people the group had kidnapped from Israel – to include women, children, some young men, and foreign nationals like South Asian citizens who were working in Israel.

But the truce expired on Friday following failure by Hamas to produce a list of additional women and children for release, according to U.S. and Israeli officials. The U.S. and Israel say that they are continuing to work to secure the release of more hostages – approximately 120 people – to include women, but also civilian men – some elderly – and Israeli soldiers, both men and women.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Monday, speaking from the White House, refused to speculate on why Hamas is refusing to release civilian women.

“They haven’t done it and only to say we’re gravely concerned about that. But I’m not going to speculate as to their reasoning.”

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