Posted by: Lister | January 11, 2009

What is burning Gaza?

From the Times:

Photographic evidence has emerged that proves that Israel has been using controversial white phosphorus shells during its offensive in Gaza, despite official denials by the Israel Defence Forces.

There is also evidence that the rounds have injured Palestinian civilians, causing severe burns. The use of white phosphorus against civilians is prohibited under international law.

The Times has identified stockpiles of white phosphorus (WP) shells from high-resolution images taken of Israel Defence Forces (IDF) artillery units on the Israeli-Gaza border this week. The pale blue 155mm rounds are clearly marked with the designation M825A1, an American-made WP munition. The shell is an improved version with a more limited dispersion of the phosphorus, which ignites on contact with oxygen, and is being used by the Israeli gunners to create a smoke screen on the ground.

[…] There were indications last night that Palestinian civilians have been injured by the bombs, which burn intensely. Hassan Khalass, a doctor at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, told The Times that he had been dealing with patients who he suspected had been burnt by white phosphorus. Muhammad Azayzeh, 28, an emergency medical technician in the city, said: “The burns are very unusual. They don’t look like burns we have normally seen. They are third-level burns that we can’t seem to control.”

[…] When The Times reported on Monday that the Israeli troops appeared to be firing WP shells to create a thick smoke camouflage for units advancing into Gaza, an IDF spokesman denied the use of phosphorus and said that Israel was using only the weapons that were allowed under international law.

Rows of the pale blue M825A1 WP shells were photographed on January 4 on the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border. Another picture showed the same munitions stacked up behind an Israeli self-propelled howitzer.

Confronted with the latest evidence, an IDF spokeswoman insisted that the M825A1 shell was not a WP type. “This is what we call a quiet shell – it is empty, it has no explosives and no white phosphorus. There is nothing inside it,” she said.

“We shoot it to mark the target before we launch a real shell. We launch two or three of the quiet shells which are empty so that the real shells will be accurate. It’s not for killing people,” she said.

Asked what shell was being used to create the smokescreen effect seen so clearly on television images, she said: “We’re using what other armies use and we’re not using any weapons that are banned under international law.”

Neil Gibson, technical adviser to Jane’s Missiles and Rockets, insisted that the M825A1 was a WP round. “The M825A1 is an improved model. The WP does not fill the shell but is impregnated into 116 felt wedges which, once dispersed [by a high-explosive charge], start to burn within four to five seconds. They then burn for five to ten minutes. The smoke screen produced is extremely effective,” he said.

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Responses

  1. Israel admitted using WP in Lebanon06, having denied it. Haaretz:

    Israel has acknowledged for the first time that it attacked Hezbollah targets during the second Lebanon war with phosphorus shells. White phosphorus causes very painful and often lethal chemical burns to those hit by it, and until recently Israel maintained that it only uses such bombs to mark targets or territory.

    […] [Minister Jacob] Edery did not specify where and against what types of targets phosphorus munitions were used. During the war several foreign media outlets reported that Lebanese civilians carried injuries characteristic of attacks with phosphorus, a substance that burns when it comes to contact with air. In one CNN report, a casualty with serious burns was seen lying in a South Lebanon hospital.

    In another case, Dr. Hussein Hamud al-Shel, who works at Dar al-Amal hospital in Ba’albek, said that he had received three corpses “entirely shriveled with black-green skin,” a phenomenon characteristic of phosphorus injuries.

    Lebanon’s President Emile Lahoud also claimed that the IDF made use of phosphorus munitions against civilians in Lebanon.

    […] In November 2004 the U.S. Army used phosphorus munitions during an offensive in Faluja, Iraq. Burned bodies of civilians hit by the phosphorus munitions were shown by the press, and an international outcry against the practice followed.

  2. The Times:

    More than 50 people with burns were taken into Nasser Hospital in the southern town of Khan Yunis, in what the hospital director, Youssef Abu Al-Reesh, said was a massive case of exposure to white phosphorus.

    “We don’t have the medical experience to judge these cases, but we searched the internet according to the cases we have, and it indeed confirmed that it’s white phosphorus munitions. I have been working in this hospital for ten years and I have never seen anything like this.”

    […] Munir Albarsh, the Head of Emergency Medicine at Gaza’s Ministry of Health, said that doctors were collecting tissue samples at hospitals across Gaza to send for phosphorus testing at international laboratories. He added that the ministry would demand an independent international investigation into Israel’s use of white phosphorus.

    […] Human Rights Watch said it was sure Israel had used white phosphorus.

    […] The lot number – PB-91J011-002A – visible in a photograph published by The Times last week indicates that the shells being used by the IDF were assembled in September 1991 at Pine Bluff arsenal in America, where all US white phosphorus munitions are reportedly made. The contractors are Chamberlain Manufacturing [metal parts only], General Dynamics, and Ordnance and Tactical Systems.

  3. The Times:

    Remnants of an Israeli white phosphorus shell, identified by the marking on the outer casing — M825A1 — have been found in the village of Sheikh Ajilin in western Gaza.

    Witnesses in Gaza said that the shell was fired on January 9 and was taken indoors as evidence. They recalled seeing thick smoke and smelling a strong odour in keeping with the garlic-like smell associated with white phosphorus.

    Hebrew writing on the shell casing reads “exploding smoke” — the term the Israeli army uses for white phosphorus. Doctors who examined the shell said that it appeared to include phosphorus residue.

    Residents said that they suffered burns on their feet when they walked where the shelling had taken place.

    A suspected phosphorus victim was taken from Gaza across the border into Egypt yesterday. Abdul Rahman Shaer, 16, was transferred to an Egyptian hospital from Rafah. He was suffering from severe chemical burns to his face and body. Paramedics from Gaza said that doctors at the hospital were sure the chemical agent was phosphorus.

    […] Israeli security officials said that Palestinians were using phosphorus weapons of their own and that a phosphorus bomb exploded in the western Negev region of Israel yesterday. It was among 14 rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. No one was injured in the attacks.

    So now Israel accuses the Palestinians of using phosphorus bombs.

  4. John Ging quoted at al-Jazeera:

    Officials said that a building of the UN relief agency in Gaza had been hit and set ablaze.

    “They are phosphorus fires so they are extremely difficult to put out because if you put water on it, it will just generate toxic fumes and do nothing to stop the burning,” John Ging, director of UN relief operations, said.

    “This is going to burn down the entire warehouse … where thousands and thousands of tonnes of food, medical supplies and other emergency assistance is there.”

    The BBC on the same event:

    Speaking to reporters on the Israel-Gaza border, Unrwa spokesman Christopher Gunness said three of the agency’s employees were hurt in the attack.

    He said the compound was hit by what Unrwa believed to be three white phosphorus shells, which are incendiary weapons used as a smoke screen.

    About 700 people were still sheltering in the compound, he said, and he was particularly concerned about the proximity of the fire to five full fuel tanks.

    Asked whether he was sure the attack had been carried out by Israel, he said he was not aware of Hamas having access to white phosphorus.

  5. CNN:

    The compound was hit by shrapnel and tank fire during clashes Thursday morning, Ging said. Three workers were hurt, and the compound’s warehouse and workshop were burning out of control within an hour and a half, he said.

  6. TimesOnline with an Israeli admission:

    In its first explicit admission, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said that “media buzz” had forced the army to withdraw the shells from its arsenal on January 7 – the day that The Times obtained photographs of stockpiles and two days after the newspaper had exposed the effect of white phosphorus on the population of Gaza.

    […] An IDF briefing yesterday after an inquiry into the three-week Gaza offensive disclosed that two different munitions containing white phosphorus had been used. Mortar shells fired by ground forces and 76mm rounds fired from naval vessels both contained phosphorus as an active ingredient.

    Until now the IDF has denied the Times accounts. On January 7 a military spokeman said that the shells in question had “no explosives and no white phosphorus”.

    […] Even after the January 7 order the IDF continued to deploy less dangerous “smoke shells”, which contain felt soaked in phosphorus.

    The article also includes a timeline of allegations and rebuttals.

  7. q4Cory Thank you for the material. Do you mind if I posted it in her blog, of course, with reference to your site?

  8. I don’t who you’re refering to, but I don’t mind being quoted. Most of my blogs are simply links to news stories.


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