Israel accused of indiscriminate phosphorus use in Gaza

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    Series: Gaza war crimes investigationPrevious | Index Israel accused of indiscriminate phosphorus use in GazaHuman Rights Watch report claims Israel committed war crimes in its use of air-burst white phosphorus artillery shells
    Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem, Wednesday 25 March 2009 16.00 GMT
    Article history

    Palestinian civilians and medics run to safety during an Israeli strike using phosphorus shells at a UN school. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP

    Israel's military fired white phosphorus over crowded areas of Gaza repeatedly and indiscriminately in its three-week war, killing and injuring civilians and committing war crimes, Human Rights Watch said today.

    In a 71-page report, the rights group said the repeated use of air-burst white phosphorus artillery shells in populated areas of Gaza was not incidental or accidental, but revealed "a pattern or policy of conduct".

    It said the Israeli military used white phosphorus in a "deliberate or reckless" way. The report says:

    • Israel was aware of the dangers of white phosphorus.

    • It chose not to use alternative and less dangerous smoke shells.

    • In one case, Israel even ignored repeated warnings from UN staff before hitting the main UN compound in Gaza with white phosphorus shells on 15 January.

    "In Gaza, the Israeli military didn't just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops," said Fred Abrahams, a senior Human Rights Watch researcher. "It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren't in the area and safe smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died." He said senior commanders should be held to account.

    Human Rights Watch called on the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, to launch an international commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of violations of international law in the Gaza war by the Israeli military and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that controls Gaza.

    The Israeli military has defended its conduct in Gaza in the face of mounting allegations of serious violations of international law and said its soldiers did not intentionally target civilians. When Israel's use of white phosphorus emerged during the war, the military at first denied using the weapon, then said it only used weapons in accordance with international law. Later it announced an internal inquiry, led by a colonel, would be held.

    Human Rights Watch reveals extent of Israel's phosphorus use in Gaza | World news |

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