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Rights group condemns Israel for white phosphorous use in Gaza

[JURIST] Israel unlawfully and extensively used white phosphorous [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] munitions in their recent Gaza [JURIST news archive] offensive, according to a report [text, PDF] released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. The report maintains that while white phosphorous is allowed to be used to obscure ground operations in open areas and against military targets, international law prohibits air-bursting the shells over populated areas due to the risk it poses to civilians. According to the report, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) [official website] fired these munitions over homes, apartment buildings, a hospital, a school being used for shelter and other civilian-occupied buildings, causing deaths, injuries and property destruction. The report further alleges that the white phosphorous munitions being used were provided by the US government, calling for the US to cease transfers of white phosphorous to Israel and to conduct an investigation into whether or not such use violated international law. The report also calls on the UN [official website] to conduct public investigations. The report states that:

The unlawful use of white phosphorus was neither incidental nor accidental. It was repeated over time and in different locations, with the IDF "air-bursting" the munition in populated areas up to the last days of its military operation. Even if intended as an obscurant rather than as a weapon, the IDF's repeated firing of air-burst white phosphorus shells from 155mm artillery into densely populated areas was indiscriminate and indicates the commission of war crimes.
According to the report, Israel had access to safer alternative means of obscuring ground operations such as smoke munitions but failed to use them instead of the white phosphorous shells. The IDF responded [press release] to the report Wednesday, saying that, "based on the findings to date, it is already possible to conclude that the IDF's use of smoke shells was in accordance with international law."

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [official website] and the US State department criticized a recent UN report [JURIST reports] that condemned Israel's actions in Gaza, calling it biased. Human rights advocates have called for the investigation [JURIST report] of recent events in Gaza, and Israel has promised to conduct their own investigation [JURIST report] into possible war crimes committed by their soldiers. In January, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy group] accused Israel of unlawfully using white phosphorous [JURIST report] in Gaza. White phosphorous use may fall under the international Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons [text] as an incendiary weapon.

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