Human Rights Watch says Israel is using white phosphorus in Gaza, Lebanon

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JERUSALEM, Oct 13 (Reuters) – Human Rights Watch on Thursday accused Israel of using white phosphorus munitions in military operations in Gaza and Lebanon, saying the use of such weapons puts civilians at risk of serious and long-term harm.

The Israeli military issued an apparent rebuttal in a statement: “The current accusations against the IDF using white phosphorus bombs in Gaza are undoubtedly false.

“The IDF has not deployed such munitions for use,” the statement added. It was unclear whether the latter statement also applied to Lebanon.

Israel has been bombing Gaza in retaliation for Hamas atrocities in southern Israeli towns, which killed at least 1,300 people this week. At least 1,500 Palestinians were killed. Israel is also in tit-for-tat confrontation with the Lebanese Hezbollah organization.

Human Rights Watch said it verified videos taken in Lebanon on October 10 and in Gaza on October 11, showing “multiple firings of white phosphorus over the Gaza City port and two rural areas along the Israel-Lebanon border.”

It provided links to two videos posted on social media that it said showed “155mm white phosphorus shells being used, apparently as smoke screens, markers or signals”. Both works are said to show scenes near the border between Israel and Lebanon.

The group did not provide links to videos showing its alleged use in Gaza. Palestinian television channels have broadcast videos in recent days showing thin plumes of white smoke filling Gaza, which they say are caused by such munitions.

Reuters could not independently verify the rights group’s account.

The Israeli military said in 2013 it would phase out white phosphorus smoke munitions used in the 2008-2009 Gaza offensive, a move that drew accusations of war crimes from several rights groups.

The military did not say at the time whether it would also review the use of weaponized white phosphorus, a weapon designed to incinerate enemy positions.

White phosphorus munitions can legally be used on the battlefield to create smoke screens, produce illumination, mark targets or burn bunkers and buildings.

White phosphorus is not banned as a chemical weapon by international treaties because its use is legal, but it can cause severe burns and start fires.

White phosphorus is considered an incendiary weapon under Protocol III to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons. The protocol bans the use of incendiary weapons against military targets among civilians, but Israel has not signed the protocol and is not bound by it.

Reporting by Emily Rose and Rami Ayoub; Editing by Diane Kraft and Jonathan Oatis

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