Human Rights Watch warns Tel Aviv against using white phosphorus in Gaza amid raging controversy over military tactics applied by Israel.
The US-based, international non-governmental organization reported that its researchers have observed the use of the chemical weapon by the Israeli military in Gaza City and Jabaliya on Friday and Saturday.
“We went by Israeli artillery units that had white phosphorus rounds with the fuses in them,” Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera on Saturday.
The report comes after an IDF spokesman, confronted with media reports regarding the use of WP shells on Gaza, denied using phosphorus and said that Israel was only using weapons that were allowed under international law.
However, The Times revealed later that it had identified stockpiles of M825A1, a US-made WP munition, from high-resolution pictures taken from Israeli artillery units on the Gaza border.
After the emergence of the photographic 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.
“Clearly it is [white phosphorus], we can tell by the explosions and the tendrils that go down [and] the fires that were burning,” said Garlasco from the Human Rights Watch.
“Today there were massive attacks in Jabaliya when we were there. We saw that there were numerous fires once the white phosphorus had gone in,” he added.
While international law permits the use of white phosphorus as an obscurant to conceal troop movement and prevent the enemy from using certain guided weapons, its use remains controversial, as it can burn through flesh to the bone or cause liver, kidney, heart, lung or bone damage and even lead to death.
“Even if they are using it as an obscurant, they are using it in a very densely populated area,” Garlasco said.
“The problem is it covers such a wide area that when the white phosphorus wafers come down, over 100 in each artillery shell, they burn everything they touch and they don’t stop burning until they are done.”
“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,” said the leading human rights group.
During the 2006 Israeli war with Lebanon, a doctor at Dar al-Amal hospital in Ba’albek Hussein Hamud al-Shel, said that he had received corpses “entirely shriveled with black-green skin,” a phenomenon characteristic of the chemical — also known by the military as WP or Willie Pete.
Israel later admitted to using white phosphorus during the war with Lebanon in the summer of 2006.