Thursday, March 26, 2009

Israel accused of war crimes over white phosphorus


March 25, 2009

A leading human rights group accused Israel’s army yesterday of committing war crimes by using white phosphorus shells in the recent war in Gaza.

With accusations of abuses in the Gaza offensive mounting by the day, the latest report by Human Rights Watch lambasted Israel for its widespread use of the controversial munitions, which are allowed as a battlefield smokescreen but banned from use on civilian areas.

“In Gaza the Israeli military didn’t just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops,” said Fred Abrahams, who co-wrote the report, which draws on witness statements, spent shells, satellite images and photography.

“It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren’t in the area and safer smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died.” The report, Rain of Fire, said that senior Israeli army commanders should be held accountable “for the needless civilian deaths caused by white phosphorus”.

The use of white phosphorus in the three-week Gaza campaign was first reported by The Times in January. After initial denials, Israel admitted that it had deployed the substance.

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