Israel admits using white phosphorus

Issue 

Israeli cabinet minister Jacob Edery admitted on October 22 that Israel had used white phosphorus, a substance that burns when it comes into contact with air, during its 34-day July-August war on Lebanon.

Associated Press reported that Edery, speaking on behalf of defence minister Amir Peretz, said: "The Israeli army made use of phosphorus shells during the war against Hezbollah in attacks against military targets in open ground."

Edery did not specify where or against what types of targets the bombs were used. However, he claimed that in using white phosphorus shells Israel had "used this type of munitions according to the rules of international law".

White phosphorus can cause severe burns and death as it is easily absorbed into the skin and burns through soft tissue (to the bone) and vital body organs, such as the liver, kidney and heart resulting in multiple organ failure.

The International Red Cross is of the opinion that there should be a complete ban on phosphorus being used against human beings and the third protocol of the Geneva Convention on Conventional Weapons restricts the use of "incendiary weapons", with phosphorus considered to be one such weapon.

Israel and the United States are not signatories to the third protocol.

Last year, the US, Israel's major ally and arms supplier, acknowledged using white phosphorus as a weapon against Iraqi resistance fighters during the battle of Fallujah in November 2004 but said it had never been used against civilian targets. However, burned bodies of civilians hit by the phosphorus munitions were shown by the press, and an international outcry against the practice followed.

Throughout the month-long Israeli war against Lebanon, Lebanese doctors repeatedly accused Israel of using chemical weapons against civilians. AP noted on October 22 that 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 Baalbek, said that he had received three corpses 'entirely shriveled with black-green skin', a phenomenon characteristic of phosphorus injuries."

In late July, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud accused Israel of using white phosphorus and other chemical weapons against civilians. Israel, however, denied the claim saying that it was only using "lawful" weaponry.

On July 23, however, the Israeli military censor Colonel Sima Valknin-Gil issued a directive banning all reporting of the "use of unique kinds of ammunition and weaponry" by the Israeli military in Lebanon. The directive was sent to all Israeli media, including editors, producers, broadcasters and correspondents.

Israel has also been accused of firing as many as 4 million cluster bombs into Lebanon during the war, especially in the last hours before the August 14 cease-fire. UN demining experts say up to 1 million cluster bombs failed to explode immediately and continue to threaten Lebanese civilians.

Cluster bombs burst into bomblets and spread out near the ground. While some aim to destroy tanks, others are designed to kill or maim humans over a wide area. An unexploded cluster bomb may look like a soda can or a dusty rock and can be set off by as little as a touch, packing enough force to rip off a leg or kill a child.