Israel is accused of using white phosphorus in Gaza: IDF says it is ‘not aware of its use’ following claim by Human Rights Watch

  • White phosphorus is legal but incendiary and causes serious burns and fires 
  • Its use is prohibited on military targets in civilians areas by some conventions
  • It comes as Israel ordered 1.1 million Palestinians to flee from their homes 

Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of using white phosphorus munitions in its military operations in Gaza and Lebanon, saying the use of such weapons puts civilians at risk of serious and long-term injury.

Israel has been bombarding Gaza in retaliation for a Hamas rampage in southern Israeli towns that killed at least 1,300 people this week. 

But at least 1,500 Palestinians have been killed in the indiscriminate bombing campaigns, and Israel has also traded barbs with Lebanon’s Hezbollah group.

Human Rights Watch said it verified videos taken in Lebanon on Oct. 10 and Gaza on Oct. 11 showing ‘multiple airbursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus over the Gaza City port and two rural locations along the Israel-Lebanon border’.

White phosphorus munitions can legally be used on battlefields to make smoke screens, generate illumination, mark targets or burn bunkers and buildings.

Because it has legal uses, white phosphorus is not banned as a chemical weapon under international conventions – but it can cause serious burns and start fires.

White phosphorous is considered an incendiary weapon under Protocol III of the Convention on the Prohibition of Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, which prohibits using incendiary weapons against military targets located among civilians, although Israel has not signed it and is not bound by it.

‘White phosphorous is unlawfully indiscriminate when airburst in populated urban areas, where it can burn down houses and cause egregious harm to civilians,’ Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

Human Rights Watch on Thursday accused Israel of using white phosphorus munitions in its military operations in Gaza and Lebanon

Human Rights Watch said it verified videos taken in Lebanon on Oct. 10 and Gaza on Oct. 11 showing ‘multiple airbursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus over the Gaza City port and two rural locations along the Israel-Lebanon border’

White phosphorus munitions can legally be used on battlefields to make smoke screens, generate illumination, mark targets or burn bunkers and buildings – but they can cause serious burns and fires, with weaponised white phosphorus having a devastating effect

Israeli occupation aircraft launch white phosphorus bombs west of Gaza City on October 11, 2023 in Gaza City, Gaza

A fireball erupts from an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on October 12

Israeli tanks move near Gaza border as Israeli army deploys military vehicles around the Gaza Strip, Israel on October 12, 2023

Israeli artillery fire rounds into the Gaza Strip from the border on October 12, 2023

Asked for comment on the allegations, Israel’s military said it was ‘currently not aware of the use of weapons containing white phosphorous in Gaza.’

Israel tells 1.1MILLION people in Northern Gaza to evacuate south within 24 hours as it prepares to launch massive ground assault in response to Hamas massacre: UN warns ‘impossible’ demand will create ‘a calamity’ 

It did not provide comment on the rights watchdog’s allegations of their use in Lebanon.

Palestinian TV channels have broadcast video in recent days showing thin plumes of white smoke lining the sky over Gaza that they say was caused by such munitions.

Israel’s military in 2013 said it was phasing out white phosphorus smokescreen munitions used during its 2008-2009 offensive in Gaza, which drew war crimes allegations from various rights groups.

The military at the time did not say whether it would also review use of weaponised white phosphorus, which is designed to incinerate enemy positions.

This morning, Israel’s Defence Force issued an evacuation order to some 1.1 million people living in the Gaza Strip, giving them 24 hours to leave their homes ahead of what is presumed to be a ramping up of airstrikes, or a ground assault.

But Hamas has called on Palestinians to stay in their homes.

The Hamas Authority for Refugee Affairs called on residents of the north of the territory to ‘remain steadfast in your homes and to stand firm in the face of this disgusting psychological war waged by the occupation’.

Palestinians would only be able to flee south within Gaza as Israel has completely sealed off the territory, a narrow strip of land about 25 miles long.

The Israeli military had said it would operate with ‘significant force’ in Gaza in the coming days and is calling on civilians to evacuate.

Spokesman Jonathan Conricus said Israeli forces ‘will make extensive efforts to avoid harming civilians’.

He added: ‘Out of an understanding that there are civilians here who are not our enemy and we do not want to target them, we are asking them to evacuate.’

Suffering in Gaza has risen dramatically with Palestinians desperate for food, fuel and medicine, while the territory’s only power plant shut down for lack of fuel. The mortuary at Gaza’s biggest hospital overflowed as bodies came in faster than relatives could claim them.

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin is set to visit on Friday, a day after American secretary of state Antony Blinken was in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The war has claimed at least 2,800 lives on both sides since Hamas launched an incursion on October 7.

Inas Hamdan, an officer at the UN Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza City, said: ‘This is chaos, no-one understands what to do.’

She said all the UN staff in Gaza City and northern Gaza had been told to evacuate south to Rafah.

Nebal Farsakh, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Red Crescent in Gaza City, claimed there was no way more than one million people could be safely moved within the timeframe specified, saying: ‘Forget about food, forget about electricity, forget about fuel. The only concern now is just if … you’re going to live.’

She added: ‘What will happen to our patients?

‘We have wounded, we have elderly, we have children who are in hospitals.’

Israel has ordered more than one million people to evacuate northern Gaza within 24 hours ahead of a feared Israeli ground offensive aimed at eradicating Hamas

The order sent panic through civilians and aid workers already struggling under Israeli airstrikes and a blockade, while the United Nations called such an evacuation ‘impossible’ that would turn an tragedy into calamity. Pictured: Children are seen in a Gaza City hospital

A Palestinian man runs amid the rubble of a building hit in an Israeli air strike on October 13

Smoke billows following Israeli strikes amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Gaza, October 13, 2023

Israel’s military sent one evacuation order directly on Friday morning, telling the 1.1 million people living north of an area called Wadi Gaza to move south. This would mean the entire population of Gaza City and its surroundings fleeing their homes

The flurry of directives was taken as signalling an expected Israeli ground offensive, though the Israeli military has not yet confirmed such a decision. On Thursday it said that while it was preparing, no decision has been made.

The UN said the broad evacuation warning it received for all of Gaza’s north also applies to all UN staff and to the hundreds of thousands who have taken shelter in UN schools and other facilities since Israel launched round-the-clock air strikes on Saturday.

‘The United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences,’ UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

‘The United Nations strongly appeals for any such order, if confirmed, to be rescinded avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation.’

Another UN official said that the UN is seeking clarity from Israeli officials at the most senior political level.

A ground offensive in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, would likely bring even higher casualties on both sides in brutal house-to-house fighting.

Hamas’ unprecedented assault last Saturday and smaller attacks since have killed more than 1,300 people in Israel, including 247 soldiers – a toll unseen in Israel for decades – and the ensuing Israeli bombardment has killed more than 1,530 people in Gaza, according to authorities on both sides.

Israel says roughly 1,500 Hamas militants were killed inside Israel, and that hundreds of the dead in Gaza are Hamas members. Thousands have been wounded on both sides.

As Israel pounds Gaza from the air, Hamas militants have fired thousands of rockets into Israel. Amid concerns that the fighting could spread in the region, Syrian state media reported that Israeli air strikes on Thursday put two Syrian international airports out of service.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to ‘crush’ Hamas after the militants stormed into the country’s south on Saturday and massacred hundreds of people, including children in their own homes and young people at a music festival.

Amid grief and demands for vengeance among the Israeli public, the government is under intense pressure to topple Hamas rather than continuing to try to bottle it up in Gaza.

The number of people forced from their homes by Israel’s air strikes soared by 25% in a day, reaching 423,000 out of a population of 2.3 million, the UN said on Thursday.

On Thursday, the Israeli military pulverised the Gaza Strip with air strikes, prepared for a possible ground invasion and said its complete siege of the territory would remain in place until Hamas militants free some 150 hostages taken during their grisly weekend incursion.

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