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Middle East- report

Israel denies using white phosphorous in Gaza, blames Hamas

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2009-01-20 Latest update 2009-02-09 18:01 TU

Palestinian women react after their relative Billal Nabham was found dead underneath the rubble in Gaza(Credit: Reuters)

Palestinian women react after their relative Billal Nabham was found dead underneath the rubble in Gaza
(Credit: Reuters)

Israel denies using white phosphorus on civilians in Gaza, and asserts that the Palestinian group Hamas used the chemical weapon. The use of white phosphorus in areas where civilians may be affected is banned by international law because of its severe consequences, including burning through flesh, muscle and bone until it is deprived of oxygen. So is the Israeli military telling the truth?

Report: Banned chemical used in Gaza?

28/01/2009 by Tony Cross

International human rights group Amnesty International has issued a report saying that the Israeli Army used white phosphorus on civilians. The group based the report on the work of a fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip last Saturday.

"Amnesty International's delegates found still-burning white phosphorus wedges all around residential buildings on Sunday," says the group.

Yael Stein of B'Tselem(Photo: Tony Cross)

Yael Stein of B'Tselem
(Photo: Tony Cross)

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say they have proof of the chemical’s use in Gaza.

Yael Stein, Research Director at the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, explained the effects of white phosphorous on the human body to RFI.

"White phosphorus causes awful burns, it's incredibly hard to treat, even if you just touch it, it causes awful burns on the skin, which of course is severe suffering. I don't think it's bearable."

Stein says that her group has talked to doctors and other medical staff who confirm that they have treated its effects.

The Israeli army denies the charge.

Israeli military spokesperson Olivier Rafovitch(Photo: Tony Cross)

Israeli military spokesperson Olivier Rafovitch
(Photo: Tony Cross)

"It's not true," says military spokesperson Olivier Rafovitch. "The army is only using legal weaponry and, by the way, we found a week ago that Hamas combatant terrorists have used phosphorus once when they fired mortar rockets against one of our village in the area of Eshkol."

"We are not using white phosphorus or any illegal matter in this operation," Rafovitch insists.

B’Tselem’s Stein finds the military’s denials ridiculous.

"Of course it came from the Israeli army,"  she says. "There was one day they said Hamas threw one rocket to Israel and that was with a little bit of white phosphorus. They had such a report, but it can only come from the Israeli army."

Rafovitch insists that the question s not even worth posing.

"The army is an army like any army of any democracy in the world, where we engage the enemy according to the rules of engagement ... we are only using legal weapons."

With UN officials demanding an enquiry into allegations of war crimes during the Gaza operation, the use of banned weaponry is bound to come under close international scrutiny very soon.