Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of `deliberate and reckless’ white phosphorus use in Gaza

March 26th, 2009 - 1:08 pm ICT by ANI  

Jerusalem, Mar.26 (ANI): Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of “deliberately and recklessly” firing white phosphorus shells into densely populated areas of Gaza, that killed and wounded civilians earlier this year.

In a detailed report, the HRW said that this was a clear “evidence of war crimes”, as the Israeli military knew white phosphorus’s lethal capacity to cause intense burns.

The 71-page report reveals that the 15 January firing of phosphorus shells on or near the UN Relief and Works Agency compound in Gaza City, where 700 civilians were sheltering, continued for at least two hours after UN staff began making repeated telephone calls to the Israeli military asking it to stop.

The shells caused an estimated 10 million dollars in damage and led to burning for 12 days after the attack

While documenting cases in which civilians were burnt to death or severely hurt and civilian property set on fire, the report says that the majority of civilian deaths were not caused by white phosphorus but from other “missiles, bombs, heavy artillery, tank shells, and small arms fire”.

HRW researcher Fred Abrams said senior Israeli commanders should be held account for its usage in violation of international law requirements to avoid civilian harm.

Abrams adds: “In Gaza, the Israeli military didn’t just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops. It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren’t in the area and safe smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died.”

An airburst 155mm artillery shell spreads 116 white phosphorus wedges in a range of 125 metres, which ignites on contact with oxygen and burns at up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit until nothing is left or the oxygen supply is cut. When it comes into contact with skin it creates intense and persistent burns, sometimes down to the bone.

The report also highlights, among a total of six cases documented in which 12 civilians were killed, the deaths of five members of the Abu Halima family and the wounding of five others. These included the badly burnt Sabah Abu Halima 44, who lost three of her children, in the Siyafa village on the edge of Atatra in northern Gaza when a phosphorus-bearing artillery shell hit their house.

The accounts given to HRW broadly corroborate those given by family members to journalists in Gaza in January, including from The Independent, which found one of the sour-smelling phosphorus wedges outside the house. (ANI)

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