By: Greg Mitchell
For several days, charges that Israel has been using white phosphorus in its Gaza bombing have spread, unconfirmed but gaining some credibility as some human rights groups have weighed in. But today the charges are reaching critical mass in the wake of the bombing of the main United Nations compound in Gaza City.
And newspapers are in the lead in reporting it — despite the Israeli ban on reporters entering the war zone.
This just in from Reuters:
“A warehouse in a U.N. compound in Gaza that came under Israeli fire on Thursday was apparently hit by white-phosphorus shells, U.N. humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes said. ‘The main warehouse was badly damaged by what appeared to be white-phosphorus shells,’ Holmes told reporters at a news briefing in New York. ‘Those on the ground don’t have any doubt that’s what they were. If you were looking for confirmation, that looks like it to me.'”
The Times of London reports today:
“The Israeli military has denied using white phosphorus shells in the Gaza offensive, although an investigation by The Times has revealed that dozens of Palestinians in Gaza have sustained serious injuries from the substance, which burns at extremely high temperatures. The Geneva Convention of 1980 proscribes the use of white phosphorus as a weapon of war in civilian areas, although it can be used to create a smokescreen. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said today that all weapons used in Gaza were ‘within the scope of international law.'”
In fact, the International Red Cross has stated that Israel is certainly using it and Israel’s response was a non-denial, a spokesman explaining that the military “wishes to reiterate that it uses weapons in compliance with international law, while strictly observing that they be used in accordance with the type of combat and its characteristics.”
The use of white phosphorus as an illuminating device only is okayed by international law but such use is extremely risky and dangerous to civilians. The fires it sets cannot be put out with the usual water or fire extinguishers.
Today, at least two United Nations officials have flatly declared that three or more white phosphorous shells were part of the attack today that set a UN building and compound ablaze in Gaza City. Here is just one of many press reports, just posted by The New York Times:
“A spokesman for the Relief and Works Agency, Christopher Gunness, said that the Israelis had been provided with the GPS coordinates of all United Nations facilities in Gaza. He said that two buildings were ablaze and that there were five fully laden fuel vehicles at the site….
“In the attack on Thursday, Mr. Gunness said, the Israelis used phosphorous shells, according to Bloomberg. The Israelis have shot three phosphorus shells against the compound, where hundreds of civilians are being sheltered,’ he was quoted as saying.”
Earlier this week The New York Times reported on growing civilian charges of white phosphorus use:
“Luay Suboh, 10, from Beit Lahiya, lost his eyesight and some skin on his face Saturday when, his mother said, a fiery substance clung to him as he darted home from a shelter where his family was staying to pick up clothes. The substance smelled like burned trash, said Ms. Jaawanah, the mother who fled her home in Zeitoun, who had experienced it too. She had no affection for Hamas, but her sufferings were changing that. ‘Do you think I’m against them firing rockets now?’ she asked, referring to Hamas. ‘No. I was against it before. Not anymore.'”
Also this week, Agence France Presse reported:
“Medics in Gaza say they have treated more than 50 people suffering burns caused by controversial white phosphorus shells, a claim backed up by a report of the New York-based Human Rights Watch. And two Norwegian doctors, recently returned from working in the Gaza Strip, accused Israel of using the territory as a testing ground for a new ‘extremely nasty’ type of explosive.”
Then there is today’s report. also by The Times of London, from correspondent Sheera Franklin in Jerusalem:
“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.”