RAMALLAH - "There is no doubt that Israel is using phosphorous bombs
over Gaza. Israel is flagrantly violating the Fourth Geneva Convention,"
says Raji Sourani, head of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) in
"This is not the first time we have documented Israel using this kind
of prohibited weapon against Gaza's civilian population," Sourani told
IPS on phone from Gaza.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) confirmed Sourani's assessment in a statement it
released on Friday. Its researchers said they had seen "multiple air-bursts
of artillery-fired white phosphorus over Gaza City."
"I've been on the border for the last few days watching the Israeli artillery
firing white phosphorus shells into refugee camps," Marc Garlasco, senior
military analyst at HRW, told French TV channel 24.
Ann Sophie Bonefeld from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
in Jerusalem was more cautious. "We haven't been able to confirm if Israel
is using phosphorous bombs in Gaza," she told IPS.
Chiara Stefanini, spokesman for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Jerusalem
told IPS, "We have no evidence of phosphorus being used at this point
in time. It is still too early to comment."
Terrifying pictures released by Israeli military planes of white clouds blanketing
the skies of Gaza have filled the screens of al-Jazeera television every night.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev was unable to tell al-Jazeera whether
the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were using this controversial weapon, and
referred the network to IDF spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovitch during an interview
"We don't discuss what weapons we use," Leibovitch told al-Jazeera.
"But I can assure you we do not use any weapons that are prohibited by
international law. There are other nations that use phosphorous bombs, and
we have the right not to comment on this," she added.
Britain and the U.S. used phosphorous bombs in Iraq, particularly during the
The Geneva Treaty of 1980 stipulates that white phosphorus should not be used
as a weapon of war in civilian areas, but there is no blanket ban under international
law on its use as a smoke screen or for illumination.
This is not the first time Israel has been accused of using phosphorous bombs
in crowded civilian areas in Gaza. Several years ago, doctors in Gaza reported
seeing strange wounds on those injured during attacks by Israeli drones, which
constantly monitor Gaza from the air.
The wounds consisted of many small holes, often invisible to X-rays, and burns
caused by heat so intense that many required amputation because of the extensive
Habas al-Wahid, head of emergency at the Shuhada al-Aqsa Hospital in Gaza
City told journalists then that in several cases the legs of the injured were
sliced from their bodies "as if a saw was used to cut through the bone."
But there was no evidence of ordinary metal shrapnel in or near the wounds.
At Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, spokesman Juma Saka said that on examination
of the wounds, the doctors had found a powder on the victims' bodies and in
their internal organs. The microscopic particles turned out to be carbon and
"The powder was like microscopic shrapnel, and this is likely what caused
the injuries," Saka said.
Following the claims of the Gaza doctors, an investigating team of Italian
journalists from the television channel Rai News 24 took samples of the soil
back to Italy.
Carmela Vaccaio, a doctor at the University of Parma, examined the samples
and found a high concentration of carbon, as well as copper, aluminum, and
tungsten, whose presence she considered unusual.
She said in her report that "these findings could be in line with the
hypothesis that the weapon in question was a dense inert metal explosive, or
According to military experts, DIME is a carbon-encased missile that shatters
on impact into minuscule splinters. On impact it sets off an explosive that
shoots blades of energy-charged, heavy metal tungsten alloy (HMTA) powder,
such as cobalt and nickel or iron, with a carbon fiber casing.
This turns to dust on impact, as it loses inertia very quickly due to air
resistance, burning and destroying everything within a four-meter range, as
opposed to shrapnel, which results from the fragmentation of a metal casing.
The metal is designated "inert" because it is not involved in the
blast, not because it is chemically or biologically inert.
Israel was also accused of using phosphorus against civilian targets in Lebanon
during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war. It initially denied the charge, but finally
confirmed it following investigation by the same team of Italian journalists,
and in the face of overwhelming evidence.
"While the international community might be horrified by the use of phosphorus,
this is overlooking the issue that hundreds of half-ton bombs are being dropped
on Gaza on civilian targets on a daily basis," Sourani told IPS.
Gaza's death toll has risen to over 900, while nearly 4,000 Palestinians have
been wounded. The UN reports that half of the deaths are civilian, and half
of the civilian casualties are women and children.
One million Gazans are currently living without electricity, and some 750,000
are without water, according to UN estimates. Gaza has a population of about
Thirteen Israelis have been killed, three of them civilians.