Human Rights Watch blasts Israel for white phosphorous use in Gaza

Israel unlawfully and extensively used white phosphorous munitions in their recent Gaza offensive, according to a report released March 25 by Human Rights Watch. The report says that while white phosphorous is allowed to be used to obscure ground operations in open areas and against military targets, international law prohibits air-bursting the shells over populated areas due to the risk it poses to civilians.

According to the report, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) fired these munitions over homes, apartment buildings, a hospital, a school being used for shelter and other civilian-occupied buildings, causing deaths, injuries and property destruction. The report further alleges that the white phosphorous munitions being used were provided by the US government, calling for the US to cease transfers of white phosphorous to Israel and to conduct an investigation into whether or not such use violated international law. The report also calls on the UN to conduct public investigations. The report states that:

The unlawful use of white phosphorus was neither incidental nor accidental. It was repeated over time and in different locations, with the IDF “air-bursting” the munition in populated areas up to the last days of its military operation. Even if intended as an obscurant rather than as a weapon, the IDF’s repeated firing of air-burst white phosphorus shells from 155mm artillery into densely populated areas was indiscriminate and indicates the commission of war crimes.

The report charged that Israel had access to safer alternative means of obscuring ground operations such as smoke munitions but failed to use them. The IDF responded to the report, saying that “based on the findings to date, it is already possible to conclude that the IDF’s use of smoke shells was in accordance with international law.” (Jurist, March 25)

See our last post on Gaza.