(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden called on policymakers and international organizations to “forcefully condemn” violent sexual acts committed by Hamas against Israeli hostages, amid criticism of comments by a Democratic congresswoman.
“The world can’t just look away at what’s going on,” Biden said Tuesday at a political fundraiser in Boston, adding that “it’s on all of us” to “forcefully condemn the sexual violence of Hamas terrorists without equivocation.”
Biden spoke days after Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal said on CNN that accounts of rape of Israeli women by Hamas were “horrific” but that people must be “balanced about bringing in the outrages against Palestinians.”
Other Democrats expressed outrage with Jayapal’s comments, underscoring divisions within the party over the war between Israel and Hamas.
More than 16,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the fighting started, according to Hamas-run health authorities, prompting calls for a cease-fire from several Democratic lawmakers. Biden has said Israel has the right to conduct military operations to root out Hamas, and that it must obey the rules of war.
Jayapal on Tuesday sought to tamp down the controversy.
“I unequivocally condemn Hamas’ use of rape and sexual violence as an act of war,” she said in a post on X, the social-media platform formerly known as Twitter.
Jayapal said her “comment about balance was not about rape, and not intended to minimize rape and sexual assault in any way” but was “about recognizing the tremendous pain and trauma of so many — Israelis, Palestinians and their diaspora communities — in this terrible war.”
Biden on Tuesday recounted “appalling” descriptions by survivors and witnesses of “acts of unimaginable cruelty,” including Israeli women who were raped repeatedly and mutilated by Hamas after being taken by militants following their Oct. 7 assault that killed 1,200. The US and European Union designate Hamas a terrorist group.
“Hamas terrorists inflicted as much pain and suffering on women and girls as possible,” Biden said.
Meta Platforms Inc. former Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and other US lawmakers have urged the United Nations to more forcefully condemn Hamas’s alleged use of sexual violence. UN Women, the organization’s gender-equality arm, issued a statement more than a month after the attack that some activists criticized as weak.
The president blamed Hamas for the breakdown of a seven-day humanitarian truce that allowed dozens of women and girls to be freed from Hamas captivity in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. Israel has said it would consider another limited cease-fire if it can reach an agreement with Hamas to free more of the 137 people still in captivity.
“Let me be crystal clear: Hamas’s refusal to release the remaining young women is what broke this deal,” Biden said.
Biden said all Hamas hostages “need to be returned to their families immediately” and vowed the US would not stop working to secure their release, though he conceded that could be a “long process.”
(Updates to add Jayapal remarks on X in paragraphs 6-8)
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