Israeli military refutes claims of use of white Phosphorous in Gaza war

People extinguish fire among the rubble of a building after an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, on October 14, 2023. [Yasser Qudih, Xinhua]

The Israeli military has refuted claims it is using the White Phosphorus in the ongoing bombardment in Gaza.

This comes after Human Rights Watch, last week, accused Israel of using White Phosphorus munitions in its military operations in Gaza and Lebanon.

White phosphorus munitions are weapons that use one of the common allotropes of the chemical element phosphorus. White phosphorus is used in smoke, illumination, and incendiary munitions, and is commonly the burning element of tracer ammunition.

The smoke from white phosphorus, when inhaled, can cause sudden lung injuries and suffocation. White phosphorus can cause second-and third-degree burns to the skin and readily ignites upon contact with oxygen. 

When used as a bomb, it not only has explosive effects but also leads to fires.

The ongoing conflict between Gaza-ruling Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and Israel, now in its twelfth day, has pushed the Palestinian death toll to 2,215, with 8,714 injuries, according to records provided by Palestinian authorities.

While saying the use of such weapons puts civilians at risk of serious and long-term injury, Human Rights Watch claimed it verified videos taken in Lebanon on October 10, and Gaza on October 11 showing "multiple airbursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus over the Gaza City port and two rural locations along the Israel-Lebanon border".

According to Reuters, the group further provided links to two videos posted on social media that it said showed "155mm white phosphorus artillery projectiles being used, apparently as smokescreens, marking, or signalling".

A section of Muslim leaders, led by NAMLEF chairman Sheikh Abdullahi Abdi (centre) when they addressed a press conference at Jamia Mosque in Nairobi on October 15, 2023. They said they will hold a series of demonstrations in Nairobi in solidarity with Palestinians who are fighting with Israel, a war that has led to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

But Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesperson Lt Col Peter Lerner told reporters that although white phosphorous can be used during armed conflicts, it has not contemplated its use as part of its munition.

"The accusation that IDF is using white phosphorus in Gaza is unequivocally false, we have not deployed the use of such munitions,” said Lerner.

White phosphorus munitions can legally be used on battlefields to make smoke screens, generate illumination, mark targets, or burn bunkers and buildings.

Because it has legal uses, white phosphorus is not banned as a chemical weapon under international conventions, but it can cause serious burns and start fires.

Israel has been bombarding Gaza in retaliation for a Hamas rampage in southern Israeli towns that killed at least 1,300 people with about 200 having been taken as hostages to Gaza.

The death toll from the conflict has hit over 4,000 with the latest strike hitting the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital where over 500 people have been killed, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Humanitarian Crisis

Lt Colonel Lerner further said the IDF is concerned by the current humanitarian crisis and are working with international agencies to provide parallel humanitarian efforts.

This he said includes evacuation of the people from the North to the South.

“For now Gaza remains hostile and volatile. We are however concerned by the humanitarian needs and in line with guidelines of international humanitarian laws, we are doing our best to ensure access of basic supplies,” he said.

The spokesman said IDF’s focus remains to destroy and degrade Hamas, secure the entire Gaza to ensure the people are no longer under threat and rebuild and reconstruct over 20 border points that were infiltrated by the fighters.

“It is not our intention to harm any civilian, our focus is to strike all the infrastructure hubs being used by Hamas, their leader's hideouts, and all its components. We have intensified border surveillance to take care of potential escapes,” said Lerner.

A plume of smoke rises in the sky over Gaza City during an Israeli airstrike on Monday. [VOA]

According to him, over 300,000 reservists have been recruited and undergone training and are ready for deployment.

“So far we have mobilized enough troops and the ground operation is ready waiting for government approval. Once we move in Gaza then the world will have a different perspective of what our mission is,” he said.

The IDF said Hezbollah and Lebanon have increased attacks, especially on the border points.

Lerner noted that over 28 communities have been evacuated from the Lebanon border and measures put in place to ensure civilians are protected from any threat.

Eliminate their threats

“What we want to tell Lebanon and Hezbollah is to watch Gaza. Every time they attack us, we shall respond with every power and means to eliminate their threats. The war will take time but when we shall be over, we shall have eliminated the periodical cycle of violence,” Lerner noted.

His sentiments were echoed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Eli Cohen who said the IDF is working hard to rescue all the hostages.

Cohen said over 1,000 fighters among them their lead commanders had been killed in the 11-day bombardment.

While blaming Iran for funding the fighters, Cohen said Israel will ensure that Gaza is no longer a threat to any other country.

“The fighters who infiltrated our territories tortured babies, murdered their mothers including pregnant women, moved into homes, and massacred the entire family. These are atrocities that cannot be swept under the carpet,” Cohen said.