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Friday, August 10, 2012

White phosphorous in Fallujah raids


US criticised for use of phosphorous in Fallujah raids

By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
A leading campaign group has demanded an urgent inquiry into a report that US troops indiscriminately used a controversial incendiary weapon during the battle for Fallujah. Photographic evidence gathered from the aftermath of the battle suggests that women and children were killed by horrific burns caused by the white phosphorus shells dropped by US forces.
The Pentagon has always admitted it used phosphorus during last year's assault on the city, which US commanders said was an insurgent stronghold. But they claimed they used the brightly burning shells "very sparingly" and only to illuminate combat areas.
But the documentary Fallujah: the Hidden Massacre, broadcast yesterday by the Italian state broadcaster, RAI, suggested the shells were commonly used and killed an unspecified number of civilians. Photographs obtained by RAI from the Studies Centre of Human Rights in Fallujah, show the bodies of dozens of Fallujah residents whose skin has been dissolved or caramelised by the effects of the phosphorus shells. The use of incendiary weapons against civilian targets is banned by treaty.
Last night Robert Musil, director of the group Physicians for Social Responsibility, called for an investigation. He told The Independent: "When there is clear testimony that use of such weapons has done this, it demands a full investigation. From Vietnam onwards there has been a general condemnation of [the use of white phosphorus] and concern about the injuries and consequences."
The 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons bans the use of weapons such as napalm and white phosphorus against civilian - but not military - targets. The US did not sign the treaty and has continued to use white phosphorus and an updated version of napalm, called Mark 77 firebombs, which use kerosene rather than petrol. A senior US commander previously has confirmed that 510lb napalm bombs had been used in Iraq and said that "the generals love napalm. It has a big psychological effect."
John Pike, director of the Washington-based military studies group GlobalSecurity.Org, said the smoke caused by the bombs could confuse or blind the enemy or mark a target. "If it hits your clothes it will burn your clothes and if it hits your skin it will just keep on burning," he said.
Experts said that, if not removed, white phosphorus - known as Willy Pete - can burn to the bone. The fumes from phosphorus cause severe eye irritation.
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Israel 'admits' using white phosphorus munitions

Children play with a flaming lump, allegedly containing white phosphorus, in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday
Children play with a flaming lump, allegedly containing white phosphorus, in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday
The Israeli military came close to acknowledging for the first time yesterday its use of white phosphorus munitions during the war in Gaza, but continued to insist that it did not breach international law.As fresh evidence emerged of Gazan civilians being burned by phosphorus, Avital Leibovich, the army spokeswoman, said its use was “legal according to international law...All the munitions we were using were legal, like the French, American and British armies. We used munitions according to international law.
“They [Hamas] were committing war crimes by putting the civilians in the front line,” she said. “If Hamas chooses to locate training camps, command centres...in the middle of the [civilian population]...look how populated it is...naturally they are endangering the lives of civilians. Hamas is accountable for the loss of the civilians.”
Major-General Amir Eshel, the army's head of strategic planning, said that firing shells to provide a smoke screen was legal. “It is the most nonlethal kind of weapon we used. I don't see any issue with that,” he said.
The Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv reported that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) had privately admitted using phosphorus bombs, and that the Judge Advocate General's Office and Southern Command were investigating.
The Times first accused Israeli forces of using white phosphorus on January 5, but the IDF has denied the charge repeatedly. Phosphorus bombs can be used to create smoke screens, but their use as weapons of war in civilian areas is banned by the Geneva Conventions.
Yesterday reports emerged from Gaza about the killing of five members of the Halima family, when a single white phosphorus shell dropped on their house in the town of Atatra on January 3. Two others were in a coma and three were seriously wounded, according to doctors and survivors.
Salima Halima, 44, who is in Gaza City's Shifa hospital, said that the chemical burst in all directions after hitting her living room.
Nafiz Abu Shahbah, a doctor who trained in Britain and America, said he was sure white phosphorus was responsible. Her wounds at first appeared superficial “but it eats at the flesh, it digs deeper and gets to the bone...The whole body becomes toxic,” he said.
In the Jabaliya refugee camp, the Associated Press found a crater that was still producing acrid smoke days after the war ended, and in the town of Beit Lahiya a lump of white phosphorus burst into flames after some boys dug it up from beneath some sand.
Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, expressed outrage at Israel's destruction of Gaza yesterday, when he became the first world leader to visit the Palestinian territory since the end of the war. “This is shocking and alarming,” he declared while visiting a UN warehouse that was still smouldering after being hit on Thursday, allegedly by white phosphorus shells. “I'm just appalled.”
Visibly angry, he condemned Israel's “excessive” use of force, and demanded that those responsible for shelling schools and other facilities run by the UN Relief and Works Agency during the 22-day offensive should be held to account. “It is an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack on the United Nations,” he said.
Israel has apologised for attacks on UN facilities but insisted in almost every case that Hamas fighters were using the buildings for cover.





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