Amnesty International released a report on Tuesday saying that Israel used white phosphorus illegally in its military operations against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. White phosphorus is an incendiary material that militaries use to create smoke screens and to light battlefields. Its use is allowed in war but can violate international law if used in civilian areas. Israel was previously accused of using white phosphorus in Gaza, a claim it denied.
“With concern growing about an intensification of the hostilities in southern Lebanon, the Israeli army must immediately halt the use of white phosphorus, especially in populated areas, in line with its forgotten 2013 pledge to stop using these weapons,” said Aya Majzoub, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International. “It must abide by its commitment and stop further endangering the lives of civilians in Lebanon.”
Amnesty International says they reviewed videos and photos showing the use of white phosphorus in the Lebanese towns of Dhayra, al-Mari and Aita al-Chaab between October 10 and October 16. They also spoke with the Mayor of Dhayra, a resident, a first responder and an emergency doctor who assisted wounded civilians. Amnesty International says this evidence and testimony indicates indiscriminate use of white phosphorus, which violates Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW).
Protocol III prohibits “the use of weapons primarily designed to set fire to objects or cause burn injuries against civilians.” Lebanon is a party to Protocol III; Israel is not.
The report said Amnesty International is also investigating Hezbollah attacks on Israel for war crimes and violations of international law.
Israel and Hezbollah have exchanged cross-border fire since Hamas’s October 7 attacks and Israel’s subsequent siege of Gaza. Hezbollah is an Iran-back militant group opposed to Israel that operates in Lebanon, and it has been supporting Hamas in its current war with Israel. It is designated as a terrorist organization by the US, and a number of Arab states described it using similar language in 2017. The cross-border fire has escalated tensions and resulted in casualties on both sides, including journalists. More than 20,000 Israelis and more than 4,200 Lebanese have been forced to evacuate or flee.
Although tensions have escalated, they have not yet boiled over into a full war between Israel and Lebanon like they did in 2006. Hezbollah is facing pressure from other major actors in Lebanon who want to avoid a direct war with Israel. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that “Lebanon is in the eye of the storm” and that he is working to prevent Lebanon from entering the war. Hezbollah does have support in Lebanon, but it has slipped in certain circles and Mikati said there is little appetite for war: “Lebanese have had enough of wars.”
Israeli officials have said they do not want a war on their northern border, but add that they are ready if tensions do boil over, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stating, “We are not looking for big wars, but we are preparing ourselves versus Iran and especially versus Hezbollah.”