Human Rights Watch: Israel Used White Phosphorus on Densely Populated Areas in Gaza

January 14th, 2009

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has charged Israel with using white phosphorous bombs in urban areas. These incendiary weapons are suspected in the case of 10 victims with serious burns.

The rights group is calling on Israel not to use these devices in crowded areas of Gaza. Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst for the group, said, “What we’re saying is the use of white phosphorous in densely populated areas like a refugee camp is showing that the Israelis are not taking all feasible precautions. It’s just an unnecessary risk to the civilian population, not only in the potential for wounds but also for burning homes and infrastructure.”

On Friday and Saturday Mr. Garlasco observed the shelling from a 155mm artillery unit from a ridge only about a mile from the Gaza border. A 155mm shell contains 116 wafers doused in phosphorous that can be spread over a large area. The phosphorous self-ignites when it comes into contact with air.

… Suddenly, I saw bombs coming with white smoke. It looked very red and it had white smoke. That’s the first time I’ve seen such a thing.

—Haitham Tahseen, Gaza Strip citizen

In Nasser Hospital, in the city of Khan Younis, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, several burn patients were treated. Haitham Tahseen said he was sitting outside his home with his family in the morning when something exploded above them. “Suddenly, I saw bombs coming with white smoke. It looked very red and it had white smoke. That’s the first time I’ve seen such a thing.” His burned face was covered with medical cream. His cousin was more severely burned and wrapped with thick white bandages. Youssef Abu Rish, Nasser Hospital chief doctor, couldn’t say what sort of substance caused them but the burns were not from contact with fire.

Avital Leibovich, Israeli military spokeswoman, said the army was “using its munitions in accordance with international law,” but refused to say whether Israel was using phosphorous. Under laws of warfare, white phosphorous, which is not considered a chemical weapon, is permissable for creating smoke screens and illuminating battlefields at night.

The Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Jerusalem have not commented, saying it is too early to do so.

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