Posted by: Lister | January 24, 2009

The Halima Family

Were they burnt to death with white phosphorus? The Independent reports that 3 shells were fired in quick succession. I’m not clear if they are all claimed to contain WP:

Amnesty International have no doubt that the shells which killed the Abu Halima family contained phosphorus. Nafez al Shaban, the Glasgow and US trained head of Shifa Hospital’s Burns Unit is certain that the bone-deep tissue destruction sustained by Mrs Halima, her critically injured daughter in law and grandaughter, were caused by it. And finally fragments of the brown spongy substance, with its unpleasantly pungent smell, are still lying in the debris outside the Abu Halima house.

[…] In Shifa, the wounded and bereaved Sabah, who voted Hamas in 2006, threatens to become a suicide bomber and says she wants Tzipi Livni to “burn as my children burned.” But her cousin Ibrahim, 58, says none of that. “We are all farmers,” he says.” We have no connection to the factions. Why are the Israelis doing this to us?”

CBS says that Israel has admitted using 200 phosphorus shells:

The Israelis admit firing 200 white phosphorous shells, but deny breaking international law.

The last bombing raid in one part of Gaza was a week ago. The area is littered with pieces of shrapnel and bits of sticky, gummy brown material.

Rub it and it bursts into flame and emits an acrid smoke. That’s a distinct characteristic, experts say, of white phosphorous.

Sabbah Halima’s blister-covered hands are an example of the kind of wound white phosphorous inflicts.

It also repeats the UNRWA claim that its HQ was hit by WP, saying they have part of a shell and that they couldn’t put out the fire with extinguishers. (WP needs to be covered with sand).

Al-Jazeera:

Daniel Friedman, the Israeli justice minister, has been appointed to lead a defence team should war crimes charges be brought following the 22-day war on Gaza.

[…] The Israeli army has already banned the publication of the identity of military leaders who fought Hamas in Gaza.

Ali Kashan, the Palestinian justice minister, met Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, in The Hague on Thursday to discuss “allegations of crimes”, a special adviser to the prosecutor said.

[…]A total of 53 installations used by the United Nations Relief and Works agency (UNRWA) were damaged or destroyed during Israel’s Gaza campaign, including 37 schools – six of which are being used as emergency shelters – six health centres, and two warehouses.

The BBC has this picture taken at Beit Lahia, 17th January:

Beit Lahiya WP

In a statement, the Israeli army confirmed it would look into the allegations that it had misused white phosphorus, but said it “only uses weapons permitted by law”.

The BBC has a picture from UNWRA HQ, showing a burning wedge on the ground:

UNWRA HQ WP

The BBC story associated with the picture, says:

The head of the UN aid agency in Gaza has accused the Israeli military of firing what was believed to be white phosphorus shells at its compound.

John Ging told the BBC that in spite of discussions with the Israeli liaison, “three rounds that emitted phosphorus” hit a corner of the Gaza City facility.

The BBC also has pictures of the devastation in Gaza.

In another BBC story, Israel defends its use of WP. The UN, Amnesty, HRW and foreign jounalists all agree that it was used in civilian areas. Only the ICRC stands with Israel – to the extent that they say they have no evidence WP was used illegally.

Haaretz says that Israel is investigating the following, to see if it was “improper”:

The Israel Defense Forces is investigating whether a reserve paratroops brigade made improper use of phosphorus shells during the fighting in Gaza.

The brigade fired about 20 such shells in a built-up area of northern Gaza.

Aside from this one case, the shells were used very sparingly and, in the army’s view, in compliance with international law.

[…]According to senior army officers, the IDF used two phosphorus-based weapons in Gaza. One, the sources said, actually contains almost no phosphorus. These are simple smoke bombs – 155mm artillery shells – with a trace of phosphorus to ignite them.

Alkalai’s probe is thus focusing on the second type: phosphorus shells, either 81mm or 120mm, that are fired from mortar guns. About 200 such shells were fired during the recent fighting, and of these, according to the probe’s initial findings, almost 180 were fired at orchards in which gunmen and rocket-launching crews were taking cover.

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