Israel Admits Troops May Have Used White Phosphorus Shells
After weeks of denying that they had used white phosphorus in heavily-populated areas of Gaza, the IDF has admitted that Israeli forces may have used the napalm-like chemical in violation of both international law and the Israeli military's own policy. The Guardian reports:
According to senior IDF officers, quoted today in the Ha'aretz newspaper, the Israeli military made use of two different types of phosphorus munitions.
The first, they insisted, was contained in 155mm artillery shells, and contained "almost no phosphorus" except for a trace to ignite the smoke screen.
The second munitions, at the centre of the inquiry by Col Alkalai, are standard phosphorus shells – both 88mm and 120mm – fired from mortars.
About 200 of these shells were fired during Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and of these – say the IDF – 180 were fired on Hamas fighters and rocket launch crews in northern Gaza.
Alkalai is investigating the circumstances in which the remaining 20 shells were fired, amid compelling evidence on the ground that phosphorus munitions were involved in the attack on a UN warehouse and a UN school.
The use of phosphorus as an incendiary weapon as it now appears to have been used against Hamas fighters – as opposed to a smoke screen – is covered by the Convention of Certain Conventional Weapons to which Israel in not a signatory.
However, Israel also is obliged under the Geneva Conventions and customary international humanitarian law to give due care to protecting the civilian population when deciding on appropriate military targeting and response to hostile fire, particularly in heavily built up areas with a strict prohibition on the use of indiscriminate force.
Amnesty International, which issued a statement yesterday accusing Israel of war crimes, reports on the effects of white phosphorus on the human body: