Israel accused of using illegal weapons

Medics in Gaza say they have treated more than 50 people suffering from burns caused by controversial white phosphorus shells. The Israeli army says all weapons used in the Gaza assault are "in accordance with international law".


AFP- The Israeli army on Monday insisted all weapons being used in its Gaza war were within the bounds of international law amid accusations it was using white phosphorus and other deadly munitions.

Medics in Gaza say they have treated more than 50 people suffering burns caused by controversial white phosphorus shells, a claim backed up by a report of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

And two Norwegian doctors, recently returned from working in the Gaza Strip, accused Israel of using the territory as a testing ground for a new "extremely nasty" type of explosive.

An army spokesman refused to confirm or deny claims it was using white phosphorus, saying: "All weapons used by the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) are in accordance with international law.

"We are only using what is being used by other Western armies -- we are not using anything out of the ordinary," he said.

The controversy surrounding the nature of weapons being used by the Israeli army stepped up a notch on Monday when the two medics said they had seen clear signs that DIME explosives, a new experimental kind of weapon, were being used in Gaza.

According to Mads Gilbert, the two had seen evidence of a number of "very brutal amputations... without shrapnel injuries" -- injuries which were likely to have been caused by such a weapon.

An army spokeswoman said she was "not aware of this type of weapon" and reiterated claims that all weapons used by the military were legal.

Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said Israel was only using legal weapons of the type used by other Western armies.

"Israel military forces only use munitions that are acceptable under international law and international convention," he said.

"The type of munitions used by Israel are similar, if not identical, to munitions used by other Western democracies, including NATO members."

His comments came as Yusef Abu Rish, a doctor at Gaza City's Nasser hospital, said he had treated at least 55 people suffering burns caused by white phosphorus shells.

Under international law, white phosphorus is banned for use against civilians, but is permitted if used for creating a smokescreen.

Earlier, Human Rights Watch had slammed Israel's use of white phosphorus which it said had been used in areas of Gaza City and the northern district of Jabaliya.

"Israel appears to be using white phosphorus as an 'obscurant' (a chemical used to hide military operations), a permissible use in principle under international humanitarian law," HRW said in a statement.

"However, white phosphorus has a significant, incidental, incendiary effect that can severely burn people... The potential for harm to civilians is magnified by Gaza's high population density, among the highest in the world," it said.

The group said its researchers in Israel had observed multiple air-bursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus which would spread the chemical over an area between 125 and 250 metres (yards) in diameter.

"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," it said.

During Israel's 2006 war against Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, the army was accused of using cluster bombs -- the use of which is banned in civilian areas -- but Israel said they were only being used within the confines of international law.

White phosphorus is a toxic chemical agent which can cause severe burns.

Dispersed in artillery shells, bombs, and rockets, it burns on contact with oxygen and creates a smokescreen in order to hide the movement of troops.

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