Israel accused of using white phosphorus in Gaza – 11 Jan 09
“Human rights groups have expressed concern that a highly flammable weapon used by Israel could be causing additional casualties among civilians in Gaza.
Al Jazeera’s Tom Ackerman examines the controversy surrounding white phosphorus munitions.”
Israel: Stop Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza
Chemical ‘Obscurant’ Poses Serious Risk to Civilians
January 10, 2009
Source: Human Rights Watch
(Jerusalem) – Israel should stop using white phosphorus in military operations in densely populated areas of Gaza, Human Rights Watch said today. On January 9 and 10, 2009, Human Rights Watch researchers in Israel observed multiple air-bursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus over what appeared to be the Gaza City/Jabaliya area.
Israel appeared to be using white phosphorus as an “obscurant” (a chemical used to hide military operations), a permissible use in principle under international humanitarian law (the laws of war). However, white phosphorus has a significant, incidental, incendiary effect that can severely burn people and set structures, fields, and other civilian objects in the vicinity on fire. The potential for harm to civilians is magnified by Gaza’s high population density, among the highest in the world.
“White phosphorous can burn down houses and cause horrific burns when it touches the skin,” said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch. “Israel should not use it in Gaza’s densely populated areas.”
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. This concern is amplified given the technique evidenced in media photographs of air-bursting white phosphorus projectiles. Air bursting of white phosphorus artillery spreads 116 burning wafers over an area between 125 and 250 meters in diameter, depending on the altitude of the burst, thereby exposing more civilians and civilian infrastructure to potential harm than a localized ground burst.
Since the beginning of Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza on January 3, 2009, there have been numerous media reports about the possible use of white phosphorous by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The IDF told both Human Rights Watch and news reporters that it is not using white phosphorus in Gaza. On January 7, an IDF spokesman told CNN, “I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorus is absolutely not being used.”
Q & A on Israel’s Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza
Source: Human Rights Watch
Date: Jan 10, 2009
Since the beginning of Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza on January 3, 2009, there have been numerous media reports about the possible use by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of white phosphorus (WP), a chemical substance used in military ordnance that has several tactical uses. The IDF has told Human Rights Watch and reporters that it is not using WP in Gaza. On January 7, an IDF spokesman told CNN, “I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorus is absolutely not being used.”
Human Rights Watch believes the IDF is using WP in Gaza. On January 9, Human Rights Watch researchers on a ridge overlooking Gaza from the northwest observed multiple air-bursts of artillery-fired WP that appeared to be over the Gaza City/Jabaliya area. In addition, Human Rights Watch has analyzed photographs taken by the media on the Israel-Gaza border showing Israeli artillery units handling fused WP artillery shells, as well as video of air bursts over Gaza followed by tendrils of smoke and flame that are highly indicative of WP use.
Israel appears to be using WP as an “obscurant” (a chemical used to hide military operations), a permissible use in principle under international humanitarian law (the laws of war). However, WP also has a significant, incidental, incendiary effect that can severely burn people and set structures, fields, and other civilian objects in the vicinity on fire. The potential for harm to civilians is magnified by Gaza’s high population density, among the highest in the world.
Human Rights Watch believes that the use of WP 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. This concern is amplified given the technique evidenced in media photographs and viewed by Human Rights Watch researchers on January 9 of air-bursting WP projectiles, which spreads the burning wafers over a wider area, thereby increasing the likelihood of civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects.
What is White Phosphorous?
White phosphorous (WP) is a chemical substance dispersed in artillery shells, bombs, and rockets, used primarily to obscure military operations on the ground. It is not considered a chemical weapon and is not banned per se. WP ignites and burns on contact with oxygen and creates a smokescreen at night or during the day to mask the visual movement of troops. It also interferes with infra-red optics and weapon-tracking systems, thus protecting military forces from guided weapons such as anti-tank missiles. When WP comes into contact with people or objects, though, it creates an intense and persistent burn. It can also be used as a weapon against military targets (see below).
How is WP used?
WP can be air-burst or ground-burst. It emits a distinct “garlic” smell. When air-burst, it covers a larger area than ground-burst and is useful to mask large troop movements. However, this spreads the incendiary effect over a wider area and in densely populated areas, as in much of Gaza, increases the exposure of civilians. When the weapon is ground-burst, the endangered area is more concentrated and the smokescreen remains for longer. The cloud from WP is dependent on atmospheric conditions, so it is impossible to generalize how long it will remain in the air.
WP can also be used as a weapon. US forces used WP during the second battle of Fallujah in Iraq in 2004 to “smoke out” concealed combatants, who were then attacked.
Why is WP controversial?
WP burns anything it touches. When air-burst as an obscurant, it can fall over an area about the size of a football field, about the same area affected by a cluster bomb. Those below may receive horrific skin burns, and it can set structures, fields, and other objects on fire. Using WP against military targets in densely populated areas would also raise concerns where the weapon could not be directed at a specific military target and thus would be indiscriminate in its impact, in violation of the laws of war. Humanitarian law also places restrictions on the use of incendiary weapons like WP against military personnel when other weapons are available.
What is the status of WP under international law?
WP used as weapons are considered incendiaries. Incendiary weapons are not prohibited under the laws of war. However, the use of WP against military targets is regulated under Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). Although Israel is not party to this treaty, customary laws of war prohibit the anti-personnel use of incendiary weapons so long as weapons less likely to cause unnecessary suffering are available.
A 1998 Israeli military manual states: “Incendiary arms are not banned. Nevertheless, because of their wide range of cover, this protocol of the CCW is meant to protect civilians and forbids making a population center a target for an incendiary weapon attack. Furthermore, it is forbidden to attack a military objective situated within a population center employing incendiary weapons. The protocol does not ban the use of these arms during combat (for instance, in flushing out bunkers).”
Is Israel’s use of WP compliant with international law?ç
WP is not an illegal obscurant or weapon. However, Israel’s use of WP as an obscurant in densely populated areas of Gaza violates the obligation to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to the civilian population during military operations. Human Rights Watch urges Israel immediately to stop using WP in densely populated areas. Human Rights Watch will seek to investigate this matter further.
Human rights groups are calling on Israel to stop using white phosphorus in its war on Gaza.
The use of the deadly chemical in wars is only legal in areas that are not densely populated by civilians, Human Rights Watch says.
Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin reports from the burns unit at Shifa hospital in Gaza.
This package contains images that may disturb or offend some viewers.
Photo shows ‘Willie Pete’ went to Gaza
Source: Press TV
Sat, 10 Jan 2009 14:47:52 GMT
Despite Israeli denial, newly found photographic evidence proves that Israel has used controversial white phosphorus shells on Gazans.
While the use of the solid, waxy synthetic chemical — also known by the military as WP or Willie Pete — against civilians is prohibited under international law, there is evidence that Palestinian civilians have been subjected to the chemical weapon.
The Times says it has identified stockpiles of M825A1, an American-made WP munition, from high-resolution pictures taken from Israeli artillery units on the Gaza border.
White phosphorus is used in munitions, to mark enemy targets and to produce smoke for concealing troop movement.
It can also be used as an incendiary device to firebomb enemy positions.
If particles of ignited white phosphorus land on a person’s skin, they burn right through flesh to the bone. Toxic phosphoric acid can also be released into wounds, risking phosphorus poisoning.
Exposure to white phosphorus smoke in the air can also cause liver, kidney, heart, lung and bone damage and can even lead to death.
There has been evidence that Palestinian civilians have been injured by the incendiary bombs. A doctor at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City Hassan Khalass told The Times that he had been treating patients who he believed had been burnt by white phosphorus.
According to Muhammad Azayzeh, 28, an emergency medical technician in Gaza City “The burns are very unusual. They don’t look like burns we have normally seen. They are third-level burns that we can’t seem to control.”
Following earlier reports that Israeli troops had fired WP shells to screen their assault on the heavily populated Gaza Strip, an IDF spokesman denied using phosphorus, adding that Israel was only using weapons that were allowed under international law.
After the emergence of the recent evidence, an IDF spokeswoman claimed that the M825A1 shell was not of a WP type. “This is what we call a quiet shell – it is empty, it has no explosives and no white phosphorus. There is nothing inside it,” she said.
However, Neil Gibson, a technical adviser to Jane’s Missiles and Rockets, is of a different opinion and insists that the M825A1 is a WP round.
“The M825A1 is an improved model. The WP does not fill the shell but is impregnated into 116 felt wedges which, once dispersed [by a high-explosive charge], start to burn within four to five seconds. They then burn for five to ten minutes. The smoke screen produced is extremely effective,” Gibson said.
Tel Aviv had previously admitted to using white phosphorus during the 2006 war with Lebanon.
The International Red Cross has urged a complete ban on phosphorus being used against humans and the third protocol of the Geneva Convention on Conventional Weapons restricts the use of “incendiary weapons” — phosphorus is considered one such weapon.
Israel and the United States are not signatories to the Third Protocol.
Earlier last week, Dr. Mads Gilbert, a member of a Norwegian triage medical team in Gaza, told Press TV that medics had found depleted uranium in some Gaza residents.
As the Palestinian death toll topped 820 on the fifteenth day of the Israeli offensive against Gaza, the tell-tale shells could spark yet more controversy over Israel’s incursion into the impoverished strip.
The assault on Gaza is entering its 19th day with no end in sight. Israel continues its intense bombardment of the territory as Israeli troops edge closer to the heart of Gaza City.
Nearly 1,000 Palestinians have been killed, more than 4,400 injured, many of them women and children.
Thirteen Israelis have died over the same period, 10 of them soldiers. We speak with Oxford professor Avi Shlaim. He served in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s and is widely regarded as one of the worlds leading authorities on the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Gaza invasion – photo 1
Gaza invasion – photo 2
Gaza invasion – photo 3
Residents in Gaza have been talking about an unprecedented amount of force being unleashed against them by the Israeli army- but they have also spoken about new kinds of weaponry. It comes as no surprise-Gaza has always been Israel’s “testing ground” – from nerve agents used in Khan Younis in 2003 to Sonic Boom “phantom air raids”. Now, there is talk of cluster bombs, depleted uranium, and white phosphorus. And these are only the ones people can identify. CNN corespondents stationed near the borders have also been talking about new kinds of explosions.
Norwegian medics say that some of the victims who have been wounded since Israel began its attacks on the Gaza Strip on December 27 have traces of depleted uranium in their bodies, according to Press TV.
There are also reports that the Israeli Army is using both cluster bombs in the northern part of the Strip, as well as White Phosphorus, an incendiary weapon used by the United States in Iraq (which would explain the large flare-like explosions unseen before in Gaza).
The US used this very same chemical weapon in the attack on Falluja in 2004. White phosphorous. The marines called their concoction ‘shake and bake’ as they used the chemical mixed with explosives against Iraqis in Falluja. Italian documentary filmmakers Sigfrido Ranucci and Maurizio Torrealta reported that the US used white phosphorous against civilians in Falluja, and showed images of incinerated bodies; the US denied the allegation. (Click here for a report comparing the injuries seen in Lebanon in 2006 with those seen in Gaza or for further evidence at Information Clearing House.)
White phosphorous is a chemical weapon as soon as it is used directly against humans, a chemical weapon made illegal in 1980 by the Geneva Conventions. It was widely used in the Vietnam war by the US, as pictured here used in a grenade.
White phosphorous melts flesh to the bone, causing fatal burns.
It ignites on contact with oxygen. Particles on a person can be temporarily extinguished with water, but as soon as they are dry they will recombust. Longer-term exposure causes poisoning, which leads to wounds of the mouth and eventual destruction of the whole jawbone.
Exposure to white phosphorus smoke in the air can also cause liver, kidney, heart, lung or bone damage and even death.A former US soldier who served in Iraq says breathing in smoke close to a shell caused the throat and lungs to blister until the victim suffocated, with the phosphorus continuing to burn them from the inside.
White phosphorous is the chemical shown clearly in the many images of Gaza. It is easily recognizable by any veteran, thanks to our country’s long history of war crimes. White phosphorous was used against Lebanese civilians in 2006 in Israel’s war on Lebanon. The Israeli government maintains that it is only using white phosphorous as a smoke screen, but they refuse to release what is actually in the shells they are dropping on Gaza.
When there was a white phosphorous cloud simply hovering somewhere along a highway after an accident at a British plant, it was treated as a risk to public health and families were told to stay inside with windows and doors closed. Clearly, the lungs of Palestinian babies are not as worth protecting as the lungs of British ones.
This stuff is an illegal, incendiary poison. It’s being used right in front of our eyes in the most densely populated place on earth where greater than 50% are children. We probably manufactured it, and at the very least, we paid for it. This picture shows a white phosphorous shell exploding on the ground in Gaza.
The ADC has called for an investigation into the use of white phosphorous in Gaza by the Israeli army. According to this former Major in the British army,
If white phosphorus was deliberately fired at a crowd of people someone would end up in The Hague. White phosphorus is also a terror weapon. The descending blobs of phosphorus will burn when in contact with skin.
WARNING: Not for the faint of heart. Then again, we should not be allowed to remain ignorant of the damage this chemical weapon causes while it is being used in Gaza.