Two humanitarian organizations and an eyewitness have accused Israeli forces of using white phosphorus shells in their recent bombardment of the Gaza Strip, which critics argue may be a violation of international law. Amnesty International, one of the organizations involved, stated that photos and videos verified by their Crisis Evidence Lab “indicate that Israel has been using white phosphorus ammunition” in densely populated civilian areas of Gaza. The photos taken on October 9 show Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops near the southern city of Sderot, within striking distance of Gaza. Amnesty identified the artillery shells used as white phosphorus-based rounds labeled D528.
Amnesty also reviewed and geolocated video footage from an attack on October 11 at Gaza City’s port, confirming the use of white phosphorus in conjunction with standard high explosive artillery shells. The IDF, however, strongly denied these allegations, calling the accusations unequivocally false. According to a military spokesperson, the IDF did not deploy any white phosphorus munitions in Gaza during their week-long bombardment.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also accused Israel of using white phosphorus munitions in Gaza and Lebanon, stating that it puts civilians at risk of severe and long-term injury. HRW verified several social media videos taken at Gaza City’s port, identifying the munitions used as 155mm white phosphorus artillery shells. They also reviewed two videos from October 10 near the Israel-Lebanon border, which showed the use of white phosphorus by Israeli forces. HRW argued that the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas violates international humanitarian law’s requirement to take all feasible precautions to prevent civilian harm.
An eyewitness, a photojournalist who chose to remain anonymous, claimed to have seen “white smoke” in the sky consistent with previous white phosphorus attacks by Israeli forces in Gaza. This witness reported seeing streaks of white smoke falling in the sky over Gaza’s port. In 2008-2009, during a previous offensive in Gaza, the Israeli military was accused of using white phosphorus smokescreen munitions. The witness and other journalists also noticed a garlic-like odor, which is commonly associated with white phosphorus attacks.
White phosphorus is a wax-like chemical substance, often colorless or yellowish, that ignites instantly upon contact with oxygen. Its primary purpose in weaponry is to burn rapidly and brightly. White phosphorus can burn through bone and metal, making it highly destructive. While it is not banned as a chemical weapon, its use near civilians is prohibited under Protocol III of the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Although the United States has admitted to using white phosphorus in the past, Israel is not a party to the specific protocol of the U.N. convention.
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