Israeli forces have been accused of using white phosphorus munitions in their strikes against Gaza, according to the Palestinian Foreign Ministry. A video posted by the ministry on social media shows the aftermath of an alleged strike using the incendiary weapon. While white phosphorus munitions are not explicitly banned under international law, their use is heavily regulated. The 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons states that such munitions should not be used in densely populated areas due to the serious threat they pose to civilians.
The video published by the Palestinian foreign ministry shows a large area covered in small flare-like objects still burning and emitting thick white smoke. However, there are no casualties or recent damage to nearby buildings visible in the footage. The ministry claims that the Israeli occupation is using internationally banned white phosphorus bombs against Palestinians in the Karama neighborhood of northern Gaza.
White phosphorus munitions are often used by the military to create smokescreens and conceal the movement of troops due to their ability to produce a significant amount of smoke. They can also be used to mark enemy targets. However, these munitions have incendiary properties that make them extremely dangerous for humans. White phosphorus ignites upon contact with air and burns at temperatures between 800 and 2,500 degrees Celsius. The substance easily sticks to surfaces, including clothing and skin, and is challenging to remove or extinguish. It can cause deep burns that reach the bones, and even remnants of the substance in human tissue can reignite when exposed to air after initial treatment.
It is unclear if the video published by Palestinian officials is recent or where it was recorded. Israel has previously been known to use white phosphorus munitions. In 2006, the Israeli government admitted to using such weapons during its war with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. At the time, Israel maintained that it used the munitions in accordance with international law, despite media reports of them being fired at areas with civilian populations.
In 2009, Israel acknowledged using “munitions containing white phosphorus” during an offensive in Gaza. Human Rights Watch criticized the Israeli military for these actions, describing them as evidence of war crimes. The use of white phosphorus munitions also resulted in a UN compound in Gaza partially burning down after coming into contact with the incendiary substance.
In April 2013, Israel stated that it would cease using white phosphorus munitions for creating smokescreens and instead switch to gaseous substances for such purposes. There have been no new reports of their use by the Israeli Defense Forces since then.
As of now, Israel has not commented on the Palestinian foreign ministry’s claim regarding the use of white phosphorus munitions.
This accusation comes amidst the current escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, triggered by a massive attack on Israel by Hamas over the weekend. According to Israeli authorities, more than 1,000 Israelis were killed in the initial assault and subsequent clashes. In response, Israel launched a massive bombing campaign against Gaza, resulting in the deaths of over 800 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The UN has announced that it will conduct a war crimes investigation into both sides, citing clear evidence of violations of international law.