Human Rights Watch (HRW) has leveled accusations against Israel for employing white phosphorus munitions in its military operations in both Gaza and Lebanon. The rights watchdog contends that the use of such weapons poses a severe and long-term threat to the safety of civilians in these conflict zones.
HRW reported its concerns following investigations and verification of videos taken in Lebanon on October 10 and Gaza on October 11, which depict multiple instances of artillery-fired white phosphorus over the Gaza City port and two rural locations near the Israel-Lebanon border. The organization even provided links to two videos posted on social media, which allegedly show the use of “155mm white phosphorus artillery projectiles,” primarily for purposes such as creating smokescreens, marking, or signaling. The scenes captured in these videos were close to the Israel-Lebanon border, according to HRW.
BREAKING: Israel has used white phosphorus in military operations in Gaza and Lebanon, putting civilians at risk of serious and long-term injuries.
— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) October 12, 2023
White phosphorus is a highly flammable weapon used for smoke screens, marking targets, and causing fires. It can cause severe burns to the human body and inflict significant damage to property. However, its use in densely populated areas like Gaza heightens the risk to human lives, making it a grave concern.
The Perilous Impact of White Phosphorus
Lama Fakih, the Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, underscored the dangers associated with white phosphorus deployment in civilian areas, labeling it as indiscriminate and unlawful. The use of airbursting white phosphorus munitions in populated urban areas can lead to the destruction of homes and substantial harm to civilians. Such deployment not only inflicts severe suffering on individuals but also poses significant risks to public safety.
Israel’s military previously stated its intention to phase out white phosphorus smokescreen munitions used during its 2008-2009 offensive in Gaza, a campaign that drew war crimes allegations from various human rights groups. However, the military did not clarify whether it would also review the use of weaponized white phosphorus, designed for incinerating enemy positions.
White phosphorus is classified as an incendiary weapon under Protocol III of the Convention on the Prohibition of Use of Certain Conventional Weapons. This protocol prohibits the use of incendiary weapons against military targets located among civilians. It is worth noting that Israel has not signed this protocol and is not legally bound by it.