Gaza detainees released by Israel traumatized and abused: UNRWA

AFP , Tuesday 5 Mar 2024

Gaza Palestinians detained by Israeli forces are coming back "completely traumatized" upon release and reporting abuses while in captivity, the head of the UN's Palestinian refugee agency said Monday.

Israeli army
Israeli soldiers are seen near the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel, Monday, March 4, 2024. AP


Detainees reported being subjected to a "broad range of ill treatment" including threats of electrocution, being photographed naked, sleep deprivation and having dogs used to intimidate them, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini told a media briefing.

The comments follow reporting by the New York Times on an internal investigation compiled by UNRWA staff documenting the state of returning detainees at the Israeli Karm Abu Salem border.

"We have seen these people coming back from detention, some of them for a couple of weeks, some of them for a couple of months, and most of them coming back (are) completely traumatized by the ordeal they have gone through," Lazzarini said.

"A number of people have been... debriefed about their ordeal, and we have indeed (compiled) an internal report about their experiences."

The report had been shared with rights groups specializing in detention, he added.

Ahead of Lazzarini's comments, UNRWA said Israeli authorities had "detained several of its staff from the Gaza Strip," who later described abuses in custody.

"Our staff have reported atrocious events while they were detained and during interrogations by the Israeli authorities. These reports included torture, severe ill-treatment, abuse and sexual exploitation," UNRWA said in a statement to AFP.

"Some of our staff have conveyed to UNRWA teams that they were forced to sign confessions under torture and ill-treatment" while being interrogated on Hamas's offensive in early October.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military denied in a statement the mounting evidence that Israeli forces have sexually abused Palestinians held under detention without trial.

The "IDF (Israeli army) denies general and unsubstantiated claims regarding sexual abuse of detainees in the IDF's detention facilities," said the statement.

Nonetheless, Palestinians taken hostage by Israeli forces in Gaza have repeatedly revealed stories of widespread physical abuse and neglect. It's not known how many women or children have been detained.

The personal stories build on substantial evidence that Israeli forces have not only detained Palestinian civilians in Gaza during two months of war, "disappearing" them without trial, but they have also failed to provide any information on their whereabouts, conditions, or charges, according to family members and rights groups as reported by the Washington Post in December last year. 

Accordingly, Amnesty International called for an urgent probe into Israel's "enforced disappearance" of Palestinian civilians from Gaza, following reports of deaths in military detention facilities.

The reports of  Israeli army abuses of Palestinian detainees and "enforced disappearances" of Gazans come as Israel wages its bloodiest war on the Palestinian territory that has killed 30,534 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll from the Palestinian health ministry.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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