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IDF Using Flesh-Burning Chemical Against Civilians

In the face of mounting evidence and criticism over the army's use of white phosphorus, the official Israeli line has not changed: Deny, deny, deny.

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However, Israel is not party to Protocol III, and, furthermore, its use of white phosphorous appears to use the chemical solely as an obscurant.

Nonetheless, the HRW report suggests that this use by Israeli forces in the Gaza war may still be illegal.

"Human Rights Watch believes that the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas of Gaza violates the requirement under international humanitarian law to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian injury and loss of life," said the release. "This concern is amplified given the technique evidenced in media photographs of air-bursting white phosphorus projectiles."

Last Monday , the Times published photos that showed munitions exploding over Gaza with the tell tale signature of thick white smoke descending from a central burst like tentacles with burning tips.

An IDF spokesperson speaking to the Times denied the use of white phosphorus, but refused to identify the munitions used in the photographs, only saying that Israel was using weapons allowed by international law.

On Wednesday evening, the popular U.S. news network, CNN, ran a segment on the speculation over the use of white phosphorous in Gaza.

An Israeli official told the network, "I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorus is absolutely not being used."

But defense expert John Pike of website GolbalSecurity.org said that videos of Gaza showed that white phosphorous was unmistakably being used.

"White phosphorous. Willy Pete. White phosphorus shells, obviously. There's nothing else like it. That's obviously what it is. No doubt whatsoever," Pike said the CNN segment after being shown watching a video of an air-burst of smoke over Gaza.

Again on Thrusday, the Times published further photographic evidence of Israeli white phosphorous shells stockpiled with an IDF artillery unit just outside the borders of Gaza.

The photograph clearly shows a large shell marked "M825A1." An IDF spokeswoman told the Times that the particular munitions in the photograph are empty shells used for targeting.

Then asked what the obscurant munitions being shown in press videos and photographs were, the IDF spokeswoman said, "We're using what other armies use and we're not using any weapons that are banned under international law."

But the Times then quoted Neil Gibson of Jane's Missiles and Rockets, a website newsletter on missile and rocket technology, who says that the "M825A1" designation denotes an improved white phosphorous shell.

The Times report also states that the "M825A1" marking designates the weapon as U.S. made.

Israel was condemned by rights groups for using white phosphorous in its war with Hezbullah in the summer of 2006.

U.S. forces were also accused of using the chemical in 2004 to flush out Iraqi insurgents in the second battle of Fallujah. Initially, the U.S had denied using white phosphorous as a weapon, claiming that is had only been used for illumination.

However, the U.S. was forced to retract the denial in 2005, and a military spokesperson confirmed that white phosphorous had indeed been used by U.S. troops as an incendiary weapon against insurgents.