Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that it has verified videos of Israel using controversial white phosphorus munitions over Gaza City and in Lebanon. White phosphorus is an incendiary substance that, when deployed over densely populated areas, can cause indiscriminate harm to civilians.
According to HRW, the Israeli military fired 155mm airburst artillery shells over Gaza’s port on Wednesday and over two rural locations in the border area of Lebanon on Tuesday. This information was confirmed through the analysis of video footage and interviews with witnesses. HRW is particularly concerned about the use of white phosphorus in Gaza, as it puts civilians in the area at high risk.
Lama Fakih, the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, emphasized the dangers of using white phosphorus in populated areas. She stated, “Any time that white phosphorus is used in crowded civilian areas, it poses a high risk of excruciating burns and lifelong suffering. White phosphorus is unlawfully indiscriminate when airburst in populated urban areas, where it can burn down houses and cause egregious harm to civilians.”
White phosphorus can ignite upon contact with oxygen in the air, producing foul-smelling dense smoke. While it can be used for signaling or to create a smoke screen, it also poses significant risks to individuals. Those caught under a burst can suffer deep chemical and thermal burns, with the substance entering their bloodstream and causing debilitating scars. Injuries from white phosphorus tend to reignite when the wound is exposed to oxygen again, such as when bandages are changed.
Israel has faced criticism for its use of white phosphorus munitions in the past. During Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, Israel fired dozens of white phosphorus munitions, leading to outcry. In 2013, the Israeli High Court of Justice reviewed a complaint regarding the use of these weapons in Gaza and the military pledged to no longer use them in populated areas, with exceptions only in specific situations.
HRW has called on the Israel Defense Forces to use smoke charges that do not contain white phosphorus, as alternative options are available from local companies. However, the Israeli military has not commented on the accusations made by HRW or the Palestinian authorities.
The current confrontation between Israel and Hamas has resulted in Israel placing siege on Gaza in retaliation for Hamas’ deadly incursion last week. The conflict has caused over 1,300 deaths and dozens of Israelis being taken hostage. The Israeli government has declared war on Hamas and seeks its total destruction. As of Thursday, officials in Gaza reported that Israeli strikes had killed over 1,500 people.
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