Images have been released by the United Nations, which believe they show white phosphorus munitions raining down on one of its compounds during Israel’s war on Gaza (photo, from aljazeera.net).
Al Jazeera broadcasted the pictures on Thursday. They show what appears to be flame-generating munitions, thought to be white phosphorus “wedges”, falling into a UN compound in Gaza where hundreds of people were sheltering.
The attack, on January 17, killed two Palestinian boys, aged five and seven.
Although Israel has said it will investigate the issue, the country has not publicly acknowledged using the controversial chemical.
During Israel’s Gaza campaign, 53 installations used by the United Nations Relief and Works agency, Unrwa, were damaged or destroyed , including 37 schools, said Al JazeerA. Six of those schools were being used as emergency shelters, six were health centres, and two were warehouses.
White phosphorus is a high-incendiary substance that burns brightly and for long periods on contact with the air. It is often used to produce smoke screens.
But it can also be used as a weapon producing extreme burns when it makes contact with human skin.
A brigade of paratroop reservists fired about 20 white phosphorus shells into the built-up area of Beit Lahiya on January 17, which landed in the UN-run compound where the two Palestinian children were killed and severe burns were inflicted on 14 other people, has reported Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper.
Because it used the munitions in heavily populated areas, Israel has been accused of war crimes by Amnesty International, the London-based rights group.
The use of phosphorus is forbidden by international law, if the military targets are within areas where civilians are concentrated, except when the targets are clearly separated and “all feasible precautions” are taken to avoid casualties among non-combatants.
If the claims are proved, Israel’s use of the chemical could form the basis of war crimes charges.
On Wednesday, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, repeated his demand for a full explanation of Israel’s attacks on UN facilities in the Gaza Strip.
As the UN secretary general was unable to speak because of a sore throat, Lynn Pascoe, the UN under secretary-general for political affairs, read out a statement on his behalf saying Mr Ban wanted “a thorough investigation by Israel into every single one of these incidents”.The UN secretary general described the attacks as “outrageous”, included strikes on a compound of the UN agency providing aid for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa) and on a UN school last week during Israel’s three-week war on Gaza.
“I expect a full explanation of each incident and that those responsible will be held accountable for their actions”, the statement quoted Ban as saying.
Investigation over use of deadly weapons
The Israeli military has also been accused of using Dense Inert Metal Explosive (Dime) weapons in urban areas, causing horrific abdominal and leg injuries.
When detonated, a Dime device expels a blade of charged tungsten dust which burns and destroys everything within a four-metre radius.
Human rights groups and foreign officials have criticised Israel over its suspected use of a number of weapons during its aerial, naval and ground assault on the Palestinian territory that killed over 1,300 Palestinians.
On Wednesday, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it will open an investigation into whether Israel used depleted uranium, which is added to munitions as its density allows them to penetrate armour more easily, during the conflict.
It is thought that the dust left at blast sites after the weapons have hit also pose a health risk, but a definitive link has not yet been proven.