The US-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch called on Israel to stop using incendiary white-phosphorus shells in its assault on Gaza. Palestinian medics told FRANCE 24 of burns consistent with the use of such weapons.
A leading human rights group on Saturday accused Israel of using white-phosphorus munitions during its offensive in the Gaza Strip and warned of the risk to Palestinian civilians who live near the fighting.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that its researchers in Israel observed on January 9 and 10 "multiple air-bursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus over what appeared to be the Gaza City/Jabaliya area".
"I've been on the border for the last few days watching the Israeli artillery firing white-phosphorus shells into refugee camps," Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, told FRANCE 24. "It's quite clear as the artillery shells explode in mid-air and the white-phosphorus tendrils go down and light fires on the ground. Also, as you walk by the artillery units you can see them handling and putting fuses on white-phosphorus charges."
The group said Israel appeared to be using the munitions to make smoke screens to hide military operations — "a permissible use in principle under international humanitarian law".
Human Rights Watch maintains Israeli forces used white-phosphorus shells in the Gaza Strip. Israeli spokesperson Olivier Rafowitz denies these allegations.
But Human Rights Watch said the practice should be stopped in Gaza's densely populated areas.
The Israeli army said it would not provide details about the munitions it was using in the Gaza Strip, but it added: "We emphasise that the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] only employ weapons permitted by international law."
White-phosphorus munitions are not considered chemical weapons. The substance ignites easily in air at temperatures of about 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) and its fire can be difficult to extinguish.
Human rights organisations have long urged a world ban on the munitions, saying they cause undue suffering through severe burns.
A protocol to the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons forbids using incendiary weapons against civilians or against military targets amid concentrations of civilians.
Date created : 2009-01-12