Israel's use of white phosphorous "violates international humanitarian law", Human Rights Watch reports following attacks on Gaza and Lebanon.
Israel’s use of white phosphorus in military operations in Gaza and Lebanon puts civilians at risk of serious and long-term injuries, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing a question and answer document on white phosphorus. Human Rights Watch verified videos taken in Lebanon and Gaza on October 10 and 11, 2023, respectively, showing multiple airbursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus over the Gaza City port and two rural locations along the Israel-Lebanon border, and interviewed two people who described an attack in Gaza.
The use of white phosphorus in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, magnifies the risk to civilians and violates the international humanitarian law prohibition on putting civilians at unnecessary risk.
On October 11, Human Rights Watch interviewed by phone two people from the al-Mina area in Gaza City, who described observing strikes consistent with the use of white phosphorus. One was in the street at the time, while the other was in a nearby office building. Both described ongoing airstrikes before seeing explosions in the sky followed by what they described as white lines going earthward. They estimated that the attack took place sometime between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Both said that the smell was stifling. The person who was in his office said that the smell was so strong that he went toward the window to see what was happening and then filmed the strike.
Human Rights Watch reviewed the video and verified that it was taken in Gaza City’s port and identified that the munitions used in the strike were airburst 155mm white phosphorus artillery projectiles. Other videos posted to social media and verified by Human Rights Watch show the same location. Dense white smoke and a garlic smell are characteristics of white phosphorus.
White phosphorus ignites when exposed to atmospheric oxygen and continues to burn until it is deprived of oxygen or exhausted. Its chemical reaction can create intense heat (about 815°C/1,500°F), light, and smoke.
Upon contact, white phosphorus can burn people, thermally and chemically, down to the bone as it is highly soluble in fat and therefore in human flesh. White phosphorus fragments can exacerbate wounds even after treatment and can enter the bloodstream and cause multiple organ failure. Already dressed wounds can reignite when dressings are removed and the wounds are re-exposed to oxygen. Even relatively minor burns are often fatal
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) has called the situation in the Gaza Strip “dire” and warned that crucial supplies were running dangerously low after Israel imposed a total blockade on the territory.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said fuel for hospital generators in Gaza would run out shortly, adding that its stocks of aid and medicine within Gaza were stranded for want of safe passage.
Israel’s energy minister, Israel Katz, said earlier today that no power, water or fuel would be allowed to enter Gaza until Israeli hostages are returned home.
The number of Palestinians killed has risen to 1,537, according to Gaza’s health ministry. That includes 500 children and 276 women.
A further 6,612 were wounded in Israeli airstrikes.
Read more at Human Rights Watch