'IDF white phosphorus use not illegal'
By ASSOCIATED PRESS GENEVA Jan 13, 2009 21:54 | Updated Jan 14, 2009 4:13
The International Red Cross said Tuesday that Israel has fired white
phosphorus shells in its offensive in the Gaza Strip, but has no evidence to
suggest it is being used improperly or illegally.
The comments came after a human rights organization accused the Jewish state
of using the incendiary agent, which ignites when it strikes the skin and
burns straight through or until it is cut off from oxygen. It can cause
The International Committee of the Red Cross urged Israel to exercise
"extreme caution" in using the incendiary agent, which is used to illuminate
targets at night or create a smoke screen for day attacks, said Peter Herby,
the head of the organization's mines-arms unit.
"In some of the strikes in Gaza it's pretty clear that phosphorus was used,"
Herby told The Associated Press. "But it's not very unusual to use
phosphorus to create smoke or illuminate a target. We have no evidence to
suggest it's being used in any other way."
In response, the IDF said Tuesday that it "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."
Herby said that using phosphorus to illuminate a target or create smoke is
legitimate under international law, and that there was no evidence the
Jewish state was intentionally using phosphorus in a questionable way, such
as burning down buildings or knowingly putting civilians at risk.
However, Herby said evidence is still limited because of the difficulties of
gaining access to Gaza, where Palestinian health officials say more than 900
people have been killed and 4,250 wounded since Israel launched its
offensive late last month. The operation aims to halt years of Palestinian
rocket attacks over the border.
Human Rights Watch accused Israel of firing phosphorous shells and warned of
the possibilities of extreme fire and civilian injuries. The chemical was
suspected in the cases of 10 burn victims who had skin peeling off their
faces and bodies.
White phosphorus is not considered a chemical weapon.