Two humanitarian groups and a witness who spoke to CBS News accused the Israeli military of using white phosphorus bombs in their operations.Critics say last week’s operation may have violated international law, which requires the military to take all possible precautions to avoid harming civilians.
Amnesty International said on Friday that photos and videos verified by the organization’s Crisis Evidence Laboratory “show that Israel has been using white phosphorus munitions in densely populated civilian areas of Gaza”.
The group said photos taken on October 9 showed Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) troops deploying M109 155mm howitzers near the southern city of Sderot, about 8 miles from the Gaza border and well within striking distance of Palestinian territory .
Amnesty International said in a statement that the images show “M825 and M825A1 artillery shells, also marked with D528, the US Department of Defense White Phosphorus Identification Code (DODIC).”
Amnesty International said it had reviewed and geolocated footage of the October 11 Gaza City port attack and confirmed that the images showed “white phosphorus munitions being used alongside what appear to be standard high-explosive shells”.
Responding to an earlier report claiming that white phosphorus was used in Gaza by New York-based Human Rights Watch, the Israel Defense Forces strongly denied the use of white phosphorus in retaliation for a week-long bombardment of Palestinian territory in Gaza. On October 7, the region’s Hamas rulers launched an unprecedented terrorist attack.
Reuters quoted an Israeli military spokesman as saying on Friday that “the current accusations against the IDF using white phosphorus bombs in Gaza are undoubtedly false.”
Reuters quoted the Israel Defense Forces as saying: “The Israel Defense Forces have not deployed the use of such munitions.”
In a report on Thursday, Human Rights Watch accused Israel of using white phosphorus munitions in Gaza and Lebanon, saying the use of such weapons puts civilians at risk of serious and long-term harm.
Human Rights Watch said it had reviewed multiple social media videos and had confirmed that they were filmed in Gaza City’s port and determined that the ammunition used in the attack was a 155 mm white phosphorus shell.
The group also reviewed two videos taken on October 10 from a location near the Israeli-Lebanese border that it said showed Israeli forces using white phosphorus.
Human Rights Watch said the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas of Gaza violated international humanitarian law, which requires all feasible precautions to be taken to avoid civilian casualties.
An eyewitness in the heavily bombed Gaza Strip told CBS News he saw “white smoke” in the sky over the city’s port on Wednesday, consistent with what he claimed were previous white phosphorus attacks by Israeli forces in Gaza. The witness was a photojournalist who asked not to be named. He said he saw white smoke falling over Gaza’s port on Wednesday morning.
“We saw smoke, white smoke falling from the sky…For me, as a photographer who worked in 2008 and 2009, I remember a lot of the lines,” the man said.
The Israeli military has been accused of using white phosphorus smoke grenades during its 2008-2009 offensive in Gaza, although the IDF said in 2013 it was phasing out the use of the weapons.
A witness who spoke to CBS News said he and other reporters smelled garlic — a known characteristic of highly flammable white phosphorus — as white smoke fell.
What is white phosphorus?
White phosphorus is a wax-like chemical that often appears yellow or colorless, and people who witness attacks often report a garlic-like odor.
It ignites immediately when it comes in contact with oxygen, and its primary function in weapons is to burn quickly and brightly. It is capable of burning bone and even metal. It is often used as a marker or to provide visibility during conventional weapons bombardment, but can also be used as an incendiary munition with devastating effect.
It is not banned as a chemical weapon by international treaties, and the United States has previously acknowledged using the chemical during the Fallujah offensive in the 2004 Iraq war.
Protocol III to the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons prohibits the use of white phosphorus near civilians. Israel is not a party to the specific protocol to the UN convention signed by the United States.