Use of phosphorous in Gaza

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(Image: illuminating9_11, Flickr)

Israel insisted today that all the weapons it’s using are legal; but medical staff in Gaza say they've treated at least 50 people for the effects of white phosphorous. White phosphorous is an incendiary weapon that's illegal to use in civilian areas.

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"The World" anchor Lisa Mullins speaks with Mark Garlasco of Human Rights Watch -- he's on the border of the Gaza Strip, just inside Israel. He's waiting to get into Gaza to look for evidence of violations of the Geneva Conventions.

Today Garlasco said that he saw the use of white phosphorous over a build-up area: "About three miles behind us is an Israeli 155-milimeter artillery battery. When you drive back there and take a look at them, they're handling American-manufactured and marked white phosphorous projectiles. They're fused and they fire them off. When you stand on the ridge you can hear them as they launch. You count the seconds until there are impacts over the refugee camp ... you watch these air bursts ... the head of the burst opens up into a big white puffy cloud ... inside of the 155-milimeter shell, there are 116 wafers, each wafer is soaked in the phosphorous. Once it contacts oxygen, it immediately burns ... those burning embers fall to the ground and creates this smokescreen, which is what the military is so hopeful is going to mask their troops."

The intent is to create a plume of smoke so Israelis soldiers can mask their moves on the ground. The problem is the residual affect of the phosphorous embers on anything they touch.

Garlasco: "The concern that we have is the Israelis are not just using these in the open to mask their forces; but they're dropping it over densely populated areas in Gaza, such as these refugee camps. And when these burning hot embers come down, anything that they touch are going to burn, and that means homes could ignite, fields could ignite, and worse of all, if it comes into contact with human skin, you're looking at it burning down to the bone."

Garlasco says all of the evidence he's seen so far points to white phosphorous being used in Gaza; but this is not necessarily illegal: "The concern is, the use over the populated areas. The law is very clear that the use of white phosphorous as an obscurant is a legal use -- they can use it to make smokescreens.

"But our position at Human Rights Watch is the use of white phosphorous over populated areas is a violation of Geneva Conventions because it shows that the Israelis are not taking all-due precautions to preclude the civilian population from harm."

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