Israeli forces have used white phosphorus munitions in Gaza and Lebanon in recent days, a human rights watchdog group said on Thursday, a weapon that can cause severe burns and is considered particularly dangerous to civilians because of its indiscriminate nature.
Human Rights Watch said video recorded Air-dropped white phosphorus shells were on display in Lebanon and Gaza on Tuesday and Wednesday – an assessment strongly denied by Israeli officials. Human Rights Watch said its analysis was corroborated by two interviews with witnesses at the scene, who described a distinctive garlic smell that is characteristic of white phosphorus.
An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman said: “The current accusations against the IDF using white phosphorus munitions in Gaza are undoubtedly false. The IDF has not deployed the use of such munitions.” Spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not respond to a request for comment.
No reporters from NBC News were present when the attacks in Gaza and Lebanon occurred, so they were unable to independently verify Human Rights Watch’s claims.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, white phosphorus ammunition can “cause burns and irritation, damage to the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs or bones, and even death.” International law allows some uses of white phosphorus, such as creating smoke screens or glowing, but human rights groups say international human rights law prohibits its deployment in areas where it could harm civilians or through airdrops. NBC News has not confirmed whether civilians were present in the area where white phosphorus was allegedly used. Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
Israel has not signed the United Nations Convention on the Use of White Phosphorus and is not bound by it. Human Rights Watch said it had previously documented Israel’s use of white phosphorus in the 2009 military conflict, a claim echoed by the International Red Cross. In 2013, Israel said it would no longer use white phosphorus except in limited circumstances, according to Human Rights Watch.
The group said the munitions being used in Gaza and Lebanon this week were 155mm air-burst artillery shells that can spray white phosphorus over large areas.
“The use of white phosphorus bombs in densely populated areas of Gaza violates international humanitarian law’s requirement to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties,” Human Rights Watch said in the report.
Brian Kastner, a weapons investigator with Amnesty International’s crisis team, agreed in an email with Human Rights Watch’s assessment that white phosphorus was clearly used in the attacks they cited. Kastner added that Amnesty International has been investigating Israel’s alleged use of white phosphorus, saying: “We have confirmed that the Israeli artillery units attacking Gaza were equipped with M825 and M825A1 155mm white phosphorus rounds.”
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told NBC News it is investigating the allegations.
In a Zoom interview, Palestinian surgeon Sara Al Saqqa, who works at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Said she saw wounds this week consistent with white phosphorus wounds. “Certain types of weapons, such as white phosphorus war crime injuries, are not even humanitarian for use in war. No one is allowed to use it. I see patients suffering from such injuries all the time,” Al-Saka told NBC News. “Those little shrapnel just burn every millimeter of their body, like cut into pieces all the pieces deep inside,” she added.
Getty photojournalist Amhad Hasaballah told NBC News that he photographed a series of attacks on Gaza City on October 11 that he believed included white phosphorus smoke. Hasabala has been photographing the area since 2015 and has previously won awards for his coverage of Israeli air strikes. The photos have now been posted online and labeled as depicting white phosphorus.
Claims that Israel used white phosphorus in this week’s conflict have been circulating online for days. On October 10, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates’ official
The report comes as Israel appears to be preparing a ground assault on Gaza, warning more than 1 million people to leave the northern part of the densely populated enclave, which is roughly the size of Washington, DC. Since then, at least 1,300 people have been killed in Israel. The country’s military said Hamas launched a series of raids on Saturday. Nearly 1,800 people have died in Gaza as Israel continues to bomb the area, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.