Israel’s use of white phosphorus verified – Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported having verified videos of Israel deploying controversial white phosphorus munitions, including over Gaza City, amid the ongoing confrontation with Hamas. The substance produces an incendiary effect and when discharged over densely populated areas risks indiscriminate harm to civilians.
The Israeli military fired 155mm airburst artillery shells over Gaza’s port on Wednesday and over two rural locations in the border area of Lebanon on Tuesday, the international organization reported on Thursday. It analyzed video footage of the incidents and interviewed witnesses to confirm the nature of the weapons used. The deployment of white phosphorus in Gaza is of particular concern, since it puts civilians in the area at risk, the watchdog noted.
“Any time that white phosphorus is used in crowded civilian areas, it poses a high risk of excruciating burns and lifelong suffering,” said Lama Fakih, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“White phosphorus is unlawfully indiscriminate when airburst in populated urban areas, where it can burn down houses and cause egregious harm to civilians,” she added.
The compound ignites on contact with oxygen in the air, producing foul-smelling dense smoke. Munitions with white phosphorus can be used for signaling or to produce a smoke screen.
A person caught under a burst can suffer deep chemical and thermal burns, while the white phosphorus can enter the bloodstream and produce debilitating scars, HRW stressed. Injuries also tend to reignite when the wound is again exposed to oxygen, such as when bandages are changed.
Israel fired dozens of white phosphorus munitions during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, triggering international outcry. In 2013, when the Israeli High Court of Justice reviewed a complaint over the use of such weapons in Gaza, the military pledged that it would no longer use them in populated areas, with exceptions possible only in certain specific situations.
HRW urged the Israel Defense Forces to use smoke charges that do not contain white phosphorus, noting that some local companies produce them. The Israeli military did not comment on the accusations, which were first aired by the Palestinian authorities on Tuesday.
Israel has laid siege to Gaza in retaliation for the deadly incursion by the militant group Hamas last week, which was the worst breach of the country’s security in five decades. The raids and simultaneous rocket barrages resulted in more than 1,300 deaths, while dozens of Israelis were taken hostage. The Israeli government declared war on Hamas and has declared that it seeks its total destruction.
Officials in Gaza said Israeli strikes had killed more than 1,500 people, as of Thursday.