Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cast Lead and WP--Again; Human Rights Watch Weighs in

Human Rights Watch report claims Israel committed war crimes in its use of air-burst white phosphorus artillery shells
Israel's military fired white phosphorus over crowded areas of Gaza repeatedly and indiscriminately in its three-week war, killing and injuring civilians and committing war crimes, Human Rights Watch said today.
In a 71-page report, the rights group said the repeated use of air-burst white phosphorus artillery shells in populated areas of Gaza was not incidental or accidental, but revealed "a pattern or policy of conduct". (Redirect here as link provided by Guardian site was broken.)
It said the Israeli military used white phosphorus in a "deliberate or reckless" way. The report says:
• Israel was aware of the dangers of white phosphorus.
• It chose not to use alternative and less dangerous smoke shells.
• In one case, Israel even ignored repeated warnings from UN staff before hitting the main UN compound in Gaza with white phosphorus shells on 15 January.
"In Gaza, the Israeli military didn't just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops," said Fred Abrahams, a senior Human Rights Watch researcher. "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." He said senior commanders should be held to account.
...
White phosphorus burns in contact with oxygen and causes deep burns when it touches human skin, sometimes reaching to the bone. The weapon is not illegal itself and can be used to provide a smokescreen on the battlefield or as an incendiary weapon against a military target. However, its use is regulated even by customary international law. It must be used in a way that distinguishes between combatants and civilians and cannot be used to target civilians.
...
Human Rights Watch said the Israeli military often used the weapon even in areas where there were no Israeli troops on the ground, which it said, "strongly suggests that the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] was not using the munition for its obscurant qualities but rather for its incendiary effect".
...
...on 15 January..at about 7.30am, Israeli artillery shells began falling near the main compound of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza City, where 700 civilians were sheltering. UN staff made repeated telephone calls to the Israeli military asking them to stop but, at about 10am, six shells hit the compound, three of which contained white phosphorus. The warehouse was hit, causing at least $10m of damage, and it continued to burn for 12 days.
The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said at the time that "Hamas fired from the UNRWA site". But the UN has always denied there were any militants in the compound or firing from the compound.

More at the Guardian UK

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