Israeli military confirms the use of white phosphorus bombs in the Gaza Strip

Friday, January 23, 2009

Israeli munitions, white flames, and smoke that human rights group say indicate the use of white phosphorus.
Image: Al Jazeera.

The Israeli military announced in a report on Thursday that it has used at least 20 white phosphorus bombs inside civilian areas during the IDF's offensive in the Gaza Strip to try and stop rockets being fired by Hamas, from going into southern Israel. The report comes as Israeli naval gunships went silent for the first time since Israel announced their ceasefire on January 18, with Hamas following a few days later.

The report states that the military used white phosphorous bombs in civilian areas, with at least twenty phosphorous shells fired by a reserve paratroops brigade into a densely packed area of Beit Lahiya. The United Nations head quarters and a hospital in Gaza City were also bombed with white phosphorus.

"We saw streets and alleyways littered with evidence of the use of white phosphorus, including still burning wedges and the remnants of the shells and canisters fired by the Israeli army," said Christopher Cobb-Smith, with Amnesty International who is also an expert in the field of weapons.

An official for the IDF said that two types of phosphorus weapons were used in the offensive. One contained little phosphorous and was primarily used as a smoke bomb and is fired from 155mm shells. The other type of bomb, made in 81mm and 120mm shells, are fired from mortar guns. These shells used a computer guidance system and Israel says that the system failed when the UN and hospital were hit. Phosphorus burns when it comes in contact with oxygen, and can cause serious injuries to humans if they are hit with it. Doctors in Gaza say that dozens of civilians have been treated for burns related to the use of the weapons.

The Israeli military had claimed that they had never used the bomb during the offensive, despite the existence of photographic and video evidence. The use of the white phosphorous bombs against civilian buildings is illegal under Protocol 3 of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, agreed in 1980. However, Israel, which signed the treaty in 1995, is not party to Protocol 3. Israel claims they were following international law when using the weapons. 200 of the bombs were used, 180 of which were used on farmland and orchards, where militants were launching rockets into southern Israel. The other 20 were used in residential areas, but the IDF says they were fired in areas that rockets were being fired from.

Nearly 1,300 Palestinians, the majority being civilians, died and nearly 5,450 were injured during the three-week offensive. Thirteen Israeli soldiers were also killed.


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