Conflicts & War

HRW denounces Israel’s use of white phosphorus in attacks on Gaza and Lebanon

New York, Oct. 12 (EFE).- The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday denounced Israel’s use of white phosphorus, considered a war crime against civilians, in military operations in Gaza and Lebanon, warning of serious risks.

The NGO reviewed videos taken on Oct. 10 in Lebanon and Oct. 11 in Gaza “showing multiple airbursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus over the Gaza City port and two rural locations along the Israel-Lebanon border.”

“Any time white phosphorus is used in crowded civilian areas, it poses a high risk of excruciating burns and lifelong suffering,” said Lama Fakih, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

HRW interviewed two people from Gaza City “who described observing strikes consistent with the use of white phosphorus.

The witnesses described seeing explosions in the sky followed by white lines moving toward the ground; they also reported the garlic-like odor consistent with white phosphorus, the NGO’s statement said.

HRW adds that it reviewed a video taken at the Gaza City port and determined that the munitions used were 155mm white phosphorus artillery shells. The video was consistent with similar images and testimony posted on social media.

“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,” the NGO warned.

As for the attack in Lebanon, the two videos reviewed were taken near the border with Israel and showed 155 mm white phosphorus artillery shells that appear to have been used as a smoke screen, marker, or signal.

HRW noted that Israeli authorities have not commented on the alleged use of white phosphorus in the current war, which broke out on Saturday after attacks by the Islamist group Hamas from Gaza into Israel.

“To avoid civilian harm, Israel should stop using white phosphorus in populated areas,” Fakih said. “Parties to the conflict should do everything they can to spare civilians from further suffering.”

The NGO said it had previously documented the use of white phosphorus in Gaza in 2009.

In 2013, in response to a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court, the military said it would stop using white phosphorus in populated areas, except in two narrow situations known only to judges.

White phosphorus is a chemical substance fired in artillery shells, bombs, and rockets that ignites when exposed to oxygen, resulting in a chemical reaction that generates an intense temperature of 815 degrees Celsius (1,500 Fahrenheit).

It produces light and dense smoke used for military purposes. Still, it also causes severe burns that often reach the bone and are difficult to heal.

Attacks using aerial incendiary weapons in civilian areas are prohibited under Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW).

The Protocol places looser restrictions on ground-launched weapons. It applies to arms “primarily designed” to cause fires or burns, which some believe exempts those containing white phosphorus.

Human Rights Watch and many states have long called for these loopholes to be closed.

The use of white phosphorus against civilians has been banned by the Geneva Convention since 1997. EFE

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