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White Phosphorus Weapons in Gaza



Media Reports

Government & NGO Reports

Photo Credits


Newest Media article: Israel to Restrict Use of White Phosphorus Munitions (21/7/2010/Agence France Presse)

Newest Govt./NGO report: Resolution Calling for Implement. of Recommendations (16/10/2009/U.N. Human Rights Council)




“Photographic evidence has emerged that proves that Israel has been using controversial white phosphorus shells during its offensive in Gaza, despite official denials by the Israel Defence Forces. […] The use of white phosphorus against civilians is prohibited under international law. The Times has identified stockpiles of white phosphorus (WP) shells from high-resolution images taken of Israel Defence Forces (IDF) artillery units on the Israeli-Gaza border this week. The pale blue 155mm rounds are clearly marked with the designation M825A1, an American-made WP munition. […]”


Excerpt of a Times article from January 8th, 2009.

White phosphorus artillery shells explode over Gaza city


The White Phosphorus Trilogy:


White Phosphorus Weapons in Iraq

White Phosphorus Weapons in Lebanon

White Phosphorus Weapons: FOIA Requests


The Video Archive:


White Phosphorus Attacks on Gaza - CNN Documentary from January 25th, 2009

White Phosphorus Attack on Falluja - raw footage from CNN from November 2004


Recent Media Reports


July 21st, 2010 - Israel to Restrict Use of White Phosphorus Munitions

1 news article from Agence France Presse


March 10th, 2010 - European Parliament Backs UN Report on Gaza War

1 news article from the Associated Press


January 22nd, 2010 - Israel Pays U.N. $10.5 Million over Gaza Damage

1 news article from Reuters


November 5th, 2009 - UN Assembly Votes for Probes of Gaza War Charges

1 news article from Reuters


The 2009 & 2010 Media Reports Archive


Israel’s M825 white phosphorus artillery projectiles - made in USA

WP projectiles (light blue)

WP projectiles at the Gaza border

More WP ammunition


Government & NGO Reports


October 16th, 2009 - Resolution Calling for Implementation of Recommendations in Goldstone Report

Press Release from the U.N. Human Rights Council


“[…] The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, led by Justice Richard Goldstone, was tasked by the Council ‘to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after’. The report of the Mission, presented to the Council’s twelfth session, concluded that, while the Israeli Government sought to portray its operations as a response to rocket attacks in the exercise of its right to self defence, the Israeli plan had been directed, at least in part, at the people of Gaza as a whole.


“The report highlighted the treatment of many civilians detained or even killed while trying to surrender as one manifestation of the way in which the effective rules of engagement, standard operating procedures and instructions to the troops on the ground appeared to have been framed in order to create an environment in which due regard for civilian lives and basic human dignity was replaced with the disregard for basic international humanitarian law and human rights norms. The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses had been the result of a deliberate and systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces and not because those objects had presented a military threat. The report also found that Palestinian armed groups had succeeded in causing terror within Israel’s civilian population through the launch of thousands of rockets and mortars into Israel since April 2001. The text of the full report runs to 575 pages. […]”


September 15th, 2009 - Human Rights in Palestine and other Occupied Arab Territories

Report by the U.N. Human Rights Council (6,5 MB)


“[…] A. White phosphorous


“883. White phosphorous was used throughout the ground phase of the operations. The Israeli Government has set out its reasons for doing so, emphasizing that it is not only not a proscribed weapon under international law but that it was deployed with a high degree of success.


“884. It has explained that it used white phosphorous in two forms. One was as exploding munitions used as mortar shells by ground and naval forces. It says that in this form it was deployed only in unpopulated areas for marking and signalling purposes, and not in an antipersonnel capacity. It claims that, as a result of international concerns, it decided to stop using these munitions on 7 January 2009, although this was not required by international law. It also acknowledges the use of smoke projectiles containing felt wedges dipped in white phosphorous.


“885. The Mission understands the means of deploying these smoke projectiles was that they were fired as a canister shell by 155-mm howitzers. The projectile was timed or programmed to air-burst over its designated target. The canister shell then discharged a quantity of felt wedges impregnated with white phosphorous, usually in the order of 160 wedges in a fan-like dispersion earthwards. These wedges with white phosphorous, which is a pyrophoric chemical (that is, selfigniting when in contact with the air), emit smoke and continue to do so until the chemical is exhausted or deprived of air. Wedges of white phosphorous therefore remain active and have done so in Gaza for up to 21 and 24 days after discharge. It is technically possible that there are still active white phosphorous wedges in Gaza - in water tanks or in sewage systems, for example. Children have subsequently been injured by coming in contact with such wedges.


“886. The Mission has recounted a number of incidents where it has particular concern about the choice to use white phosphorous. These incidents have been addressed in detail elsewhere and include the incidents at the UNRWA compound in Gaza City, the attacks on al-Quds and al-Wafa hospitals, also in Gaza City, and the use of white phosphorous in the attack on the Abu Halima family to the north of al-Atatra and in Khuz’a.


“887. The Mission notes that, at least in the case of Abu Halima, it appears that the white phosphorous was deployed by means of an exploding shell and not as a smoke projectile. This occurred several days after the apparent decision to stop using the munitions on 7 January 2009.


“888. The Mission has also spoken at some length to a number of local and international medical experts who treated patients in Gaza who suffered burns as a result of exposure to white phosphorous.


“889. The Mission need not repeat much of what it has already concluded on the choice to use white phosphorous in specific circumstances. It has already made clear that the risks it posed to the civilian population and civilian objects in the area under attack were excessive in relation to the specific military advantages sought.


“890. The Israeli Government has frequently pointed out the difficulties posed by fighting in built-up areas. One of the difficulties is the proximity of civilian premises to possible military targets. Commanders have no choice but to factor in the risk to such premises and the people inside them in deciding which weapons to use. The Mission finds that the Israeli armed forces were systematically reckless in determining to use white phosphorous in built-up areas and in particular in and around areas of particular importance to civilian health and safety.


“891. In addition to the reckless use of white phosphorous, the Mission must emphasize that it is concerned not only with the inordinate risks the Israeli armed forces took in using it, but also the damage it caused in fact. In speaking with medical experts and practitioners, it was impressed by the severity and sometimes untreatable nature of the burns caused by the substance.


“892. Several doctors told of how they believed they had dealt with a wound successfully only to find unexpected complications developing as a result of the phosphorous having caused deeper damage to tissue and organs than could be detected at the time. Several patients died, according to doctors, as a result of organ failure resulting from the burns.


“893. A senior doctor at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City confirmed that Sabah, Ghada and Farah Abu Halima were admitted with serious burns and transferred to Egypt for treatment. The doctor believed that the burns were caused by contact with white phosphorous.


“894. The doctor commented that, before the military operations, the hospital was not familiar with white phosphorous burns. Staff became concerned when patients who had been sent home after treatment of apparently minor burns would come back in the following days with more serious wounds. They found that when they removed the bandages that had been applied to a wound that still contained fragments of white phosphorous, smoke would come from the wound, even hours after the injury. White phosphorous continues to burn as long as it is in contact with oxygen.


“895. International doctors working with al-Shifa staff, some of whom had worked in Lebanon during the 2006 war, identified white phosphorous as the cause of these injuries and the treatment was adapted accordingly. Any apparent white phosphorous burn was immediately covered with a wet sponge and the particles extracted. White phosphorous sticks to tissue, so all flesh and sometimes the muscle around the burn would have to be excised.


“896. In addition, the highly toxic substance, used so widely in civilian settings posed a real health threat to doctors dealing with patients. Medical staff reported to the Mission how even working in the areas where the phosphorous had been used made them feel sick, their lips would swell and they would become extremely thirsty and nauseous.


“897. While accepting that white phosphorous is not at this stage proscribed under international law, the Mission considers that the repeated misuse of the substance by the Israeli armed forces during this operation calls into question the wisdom of allowing its continued use without some further degree of control. The Mission understands the need to use obscurants and illuminants for various reasons during military operations and especially in screening troops from observation or enemy fire. There are, however, other screening and illuminating means which are free from the toxicities, volatilities and hazards that are inherent in the chemical white phosphorous. The use of white phosphorous in any from in and around areas dedicated to the health and safety of civilians has been shown to carry very substantial risks. The Mission therefore believes that serious consideration should be given to banning the use of white phosphorous in built-up areas. […]


“[…] 1768.[…] The Mission recommends that the General Assembly promote an urgent discussion on the future legality of the use of certain munitions referred to in this report, and in particular white phosphorous, flechettes and heavy metal such as tungsten. In such discussion the General Assembly should draw inter alia on the expertise of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The Mission further recommends that the Government of Israel undertake a moratorium in the use of such weapons in light of the human suffering and damage they have caused in the Gaza Strip. […]”


August 13th, 2009 - White Flag Deaths

Report by Human Rights Watch


“[…] In a series of ground incursions in the area between January 11 and 13, Israeli forces engaged Palestinian fighters, reportedly killing three. Local officials reported numerous civilian casualties. On two separate occasions the IDF heavily used air-burst white phosphorus, artillery-fired, killing one woman and injuring dozens of others.


“Residents and local human rights activists told Human Rights Watch that Palestinian fighters were active in the area, and an Islamic Jihad commander told the media that about one dozen fighters had directly engaged the IDF in Khuza’a. But by these accounts, the fighting was also light, with the fighters retreating when Israeli forces advanced.


“The IDF’s assault on Khuza’a began around 9:30 p.m. on January 10, with an intense artillery barrage in the area, including white phosphorus shells bursting over the al-Najjar district, inhabited primarily by a family of that name. According to three residents, interviewed separately, white phosphorus shells exploded above private homes, showering the area with burning wedges. Some homes in the area caught on fire, and neighbors helped each other to extinguish the flames. […]


“[…] The next assault took place around midnight on January 13, with heavy shelling, including the extensive use of air-burst white phosphorus. By early in the morning, approximately 100 neighborhood residents had gathered in a small garden. Tanks and bulldozers reached the edge of the village and Israeli soldiers used megaphones to order the residents to go to the village center. However, according to three witnesses, when residents began to move, soldiers who had advanced and deployed into the neighborhood, shot in their direction, forcing them to turn around. […]


“[…] On January 4, Israeli forces in multiple attacks killed seven members of the Abu Halima family, from Siyafa village, and wounded six. In two of these deaths, IDF soldiers shot at family members who were trying to head for safety while carrying white flags or waving their hands in the air to show they had no weapons.


“On that day, 14 family members sheltered in the home of Sa’dallah and Sabah Abu Halima in the village of Siyafa, near Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip.36 In separate interviews, three members of the family told Human Rights Watch that an Israeli artillery shell containing white phosphorus directly hit their house at around 4 p.m., killing five members of the family and wounding four.


“According to separate interviews with the three family members, as well as three other witnesses from the area, Israeli forces fired on the family as they tried to evacuate the wounded and dead from the white phosphorus attack to the hospital on tractors and a pickup truck, killing two cousins, Muhammad and Mattar. […]”


July 2nd, 2009 - Operation ‘Cast Lead’: 22 Days of Death and Destruction

Report by Amnesty International


“[…] During Operation ‘Cast Lead’ Israeli forces made extensive use of white phosphorus, often launched from 155mm artillery shells, in residential areas, causing death and injuries to civilians. Homes, schools, medical facilities and UN buildings - all civilian objects - took direct hits. […]


“[…] In Khuza’a, east of Khan Yunis, in the south of Gaza, Amnesty International delegates found white phosphorus artillery shells, some whole and some in fragments, in several homes in a densely populated residential area. In one home, 47-year-old Hanan al-Najjar, a mother of four, was killed by one such shell. She and her family had fled their home further east and were staying with relatives in a more built-up residential area, thinking that they would be safer there. On the evening of 10 January 2009 the area was shelled with white phosphorus. Hanan’s husband and children told Amnesty International that one of the artillery shells, after having discharged the white phosphorus wedges, crashed through the roof of the house and travelled through two rooms and exploded in the hall. A large fragment hit Hanan in the chest, almost severing the upper part of her body. She was killed instantly, in front of her children and relatives, most of whom were injured. Her four children all sustained burns. Her seven-year-old daughter, Aya, also suffered a broken arm, and her cousin Ihsan, 26, lost her right eye. […]


“[…] White phosphorus continued to be used until the last day of Operation ‘Cast Lead’, on 17 January 2009. On that day a white phosphorus artillery shell exploded at about 6am in an UNRWA primary school in Beit Lahia, where more than 1,500 people were sheltering. Two children, Muhammad al-Ashqar and his brother Bilal, aged five and seven respectively, were killed in the classroom where they were sleeping with their parents, siblings and some 30 other relatives, several of whom were injured. The children’s mother, 28-year-old Anjud, sustained serious injuries to the head and other parts of the body. Her right hand had to be amputated. The children’s 18-year-old cousin Mona lost her left leg in the attack. […]


“[…] Artillery attacks in general and white phosphorus attacks in particular in densely populated areas were indiscriminate and as such unlawful. In addition to the deaths and injury caused, the situation was made worse by the Israeli authorities’ failure to disclose, and in fact their repeated denial, that white phosphorus was being used by their forces. This delayed adequate treatment for the victims of such attacks and caused them additional suffering, and in some cases victims who could have been saved died. […]”


April 23rd, 2009 - Israeli Army Probe Lacks Credibility/No Substitute for Independent Investigation

Press Release by Amnesty International USA


“[…] Regarding the use of white phosphorus in densely populated residential areas, the army’s assertions that ‘no phosphorus munitions were used on built-up areas’ and that the ‘pieces of felt dipped in phosphorus … are not incendiary’ could not be further from the truth. Amnesty International researchers on the ground found hundreds of white phosphorus-impregnated felt wedges in residential areas all over Gaza, still smouldering weeks after they had been fired. They similarly found dozens of artillery shells which had delivered the white phosphorus all over Gaza. As well, there is ample photographic and TV footage of white phosphorus artillery shells fired in airburst mode exploding over densely populated residential areas and white phosphorus literally raining down over these areas.


“The Israeli army is fully aware of the dangers of white phosphorus for human beings. Documents written during Operation Cast Lead by the office of the Israeli army Chief Medical Officer and Medical Field Operations headquarters highlight some of the effects. A document signed by Colonel Dr Gil Hirschorn, head of trauma in the office of the army’s Chief Medical Officer, states: ‘When the phosphorus comes in contact with living tissue it causes its damage by ‘eating’ away at it. Characteristics of a phosphorus wound are: chemical burns accompanied by extreme pain, damage to tissue ... the phosphorus may seep into the body and damage internal organs. In the long run, kidney failure and the spread of infection are characteristic ... In conclusion: a wound by an ordnance containing explosive phosphorus is inherently dangerous and has the potential to cause serious damage to tissue.’ […]


“Another document entitled ‘Exposure to White Phosphorus’, prepared by Medical Field Operations headquarters and sent from the Health Ministry, notes that ‘most of the data on phosphorus wounds stems from animal testing and accidents. Exposure to white phosphorus is highly poisonous, according to many lab experiments. Burns covering a small area of the body, 12-15 percent in lab animals and less than 10 percent in humans, may be lethal as a result of its effects, mostly on the liver, heart and kidneys.’ […]”


April 23rd, 2009 - Israel/Gaza: Israeli Military Investigation Not Credible

Press Release by Human Rights Watch


“[…] The Israeli military’s findings about the conduct of its forces in Gaza, announced on April 22, lack credibility and confirm the need for an impartial international inquiry into alleged violations by both Israel and Hamas, Human Rights Watch said today. […]


“Human Rights Watch’s investigation into the fighting in Gaza concluded that Israeli forces were responsible for serious violations of the laws of war, including the use of heavy artillery and white phosphorus munitions in densely populated areas, the apparent targeting of people trying to convey their civilian status, and the destruction of civilian objects in excess of military need. Some of the cases of white-phosphorus use demonstrate evidence of war crimes, Human Rights Watch said last month in a 71-page report.


“The military’s finding that ‘no phosphorus munitions were used on built-up areas’ is blatantly wrong, Human Rights Watch said. Immediately after major fighting stopped, Human Rights Watch researchers in Gaza found spent white phosphorous artillery shells, canister liners, and dozens of burnt felt wedges containing white phosphorus on city streets and apartment roofs, in residential courtyards, and at a United Nations school. Artillery shells containing white phosphorus also struck a hospital and the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), both in central Gaza City. […]”


April 22nd, 2009 - IDF Releases Information Regarding Op. Cast Lead Military Investigations

Report by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)


“[…] 4. The use of weaponry containing phosphorous. This investigation was conducted by Col. Shai Alkalai.


“The use of weapons containing white phosphorus is standard, legal, and a tactic employed by other western militaries worldwide, including states that are signatories of the Third Protocol of the Convention Weapons (CCW).


“The IDF’s use of white phosphorus was in accordance with Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law, and more specifically, the obligations with regard to munitions with incendiary characteristics.


“The IDF uses white phosphorus as a smoke screen, and uses certain smoke bombs that contain elements of white phosphorus. These uses are standard and legal. The use of smoke obscurants proved to be a very effective means, and in many cases, prevented the need to use explosive munitions whose impact would have been considerably more dangerous.


“According to a Senior IDF Military Official, the IDF stopped using white phosphorus on January 7, 2009, despite its legality and tactical benefits, in response to the outrage in the media regarding its use. […]”


April 1st, 2009 - United States Delivers Massive New Weapons Shipment to Israel

Press Release by Amnesty International USA


“[…] Amnesty International today revealed that the United States has sent a massive new shipment of arms to Israel - about 14,000 tons worth - despite evidence that U.S. weapons were misused against civilians in the Gaza attacks. The unloading of the shipment in Israel was confirmed by the Pentagon. The human rights organization called on President Obama to suspend future arms shipments to Israel until there is no longer substantial risk of human rights violations.


“[…] Amnesty International first drew attention to this arms ship's voyage on January 15. The ship’s charter, authorized by the Bush administration a week before Israel launched its attack on Gaza, was to carry 989 shipping containers of ‘containerized ammunition and other containerized ammunition supplies’ from Sunny Point Military Ocean Terminal, North Carolina, to Ashdod, as listed in the contract. U.S. Military Sealift Command charters for a further two U.S. munitions shipments from Navipe-Astakos (Greece) to Ashdod, which explicitly included white phosphorus munitions, were announced on December 31 during the Gaza conflict and then cancelled on January 9, but a U.S. military spokesperson subsequently confirmed that the Pentagon was still seeking a way to also deliver those munitions. […]”


March 25th, 2009 - Rain of Fire/Israel’s Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza

Report by Human Rights Watch (6,1 MB)


“[…] Israel’s Use of White Phosphorus


“The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has used white phosphorus in the past, notably in the wars in Lebanon in 1982 and 2006. The IDF uses indirect-fire systems to launch white phosphorus munitions, meaning that the firing unit does not see the target, but relies on spotters to provide targeting information. To fire white phosphorus in Gaza, the IDF used 155mm artillery shells and 120mm mortar shells; Human Rights Watch researchers found the remnants of both in Gaza, many of them in residential areas. The use of air-burst white phosphorus delivered by 155mm artillery shells in populated civilian areas caused the casualties and damage that is the focus of this report.


“Each 155mm shell contains a light green canister marked ‘WP CANISTER’ that holds four metal liners. The liners hold the 116 felt wedges soaked in phosphorus. When air-burst, the canisters explode in mid-air, ejecting the felt wedges from the shell casing and scattering them over a wide area, leaving the empty shell casing to land separately. When exposed to oxygen, the wedges ignite. Human Rights Watch researchers found shell casings, unexploded white phosphorus canisters, canister liners, and felt wedges from inside the canisters in multiple sites in the Gaza Strip. Researchers saw felt wedges igniting when agitated or exposed to oxygen up to two weeks after they had landed.


“All of the white phosphorus shells Human Rights Watch found in Gaza are from the same lot, manufactured in the United States and marked: THS89D112-003 155MM M825E1. THS89D is the manufacturer identification code denoting that the shells and contents were produced in April 1989 by Thiokol Aerospace, which operated the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant at the time; 112-003 are the interfix and sequence numbers, which denote that several lots of the same ammunition were being produced simultaneously; 155mm stands for the caliber of the artillery shell. M825E1 is the US military designation for an older remanufactured M825 white phosphorus shell that has been brought up to the current M825A1 standard.


“Additionally, Reuters news agency photographed an IDF artillery unit in Israel near Gaza handling M825A1 projectiles on January 4, 2009 with the lot number PB-91J011-002A, indicating that these shells were produced in the United States at the Pine Bluff Arsenal in September 1991. […]”


March 16th, 2009 - Letter to EU Foreign Ministers to Address Violations between Israel and Hamas

Letter by the Human Rights Watch


“[…] White Phosphorus Munitions


“Israel repeatedly burst white phosphorus munitions in the air over populated areas of the Gaza Strip, up to the last days of its military operation, killing and injuring civilians, and damaging civilian structures, including a school, a market, a humanitarian aid warehouse and a hospital. The IDF’s extensive use of white phosphorus over many parts of the Gaza Strip, despite plentiful evidence of the munitions’ indiscriminate incendiary effect, was neither incidental nor accidental, but intentional. Even if intended as an obscurant to block troop movements rather than as a weapon, the IDF’s firing of air-burst white phosphorus shells from 155mm artillery into densely populated areas indicates the commission of war crimes. Human Rights Watch investigated two particularly egregious examples: on January 15 the IDF air-burst white phosphorus over the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City, destroying warehouses, supplies of flour, vehicles, and more than € 2.86 million in medical supplies; in the second case, on January 17 the IDF air-burst white phosphorus at a low altitude over a UN-run school in Beit Lahiya that was sheltering about 1, 600 internally displaced persons, killing two children and wounding 14 other civilians. […]”


March 12th, 2009 - Figures Reveal the True Extent of the Destruction Inflicted upon the Gaza Strip

Press Release by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights


“[…] The Israeli offensive launched on the Gaza Strip between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 resulted in extensive death, injury and destruction throughout the Gaza Strip. Only now is the true extent of the devastation becoming apparent. […]


“[…] Over the course of the 22 day Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, a total of 1,434 Palestinians were killed. Of these, 235 were combatants. The vast majority of the dead, however, were civilians and non-combatants: protected persons according to the principles of IHL. PCHR investigations confirm that, in total, 960 civilians lost their lives, including 288 children and 121 women. 239 police officers were also killed; the majority (235) in air strikes carried out on the first day of the attacks. The Ministry of Health have also confirmed that a total of 5,303 Palestinians were injured in the assault, including 1,606 children and 828 women.


“The excessively disproportionate civilian death toll, and Israel’s conduct of hostilities - including, inter alia, indiscriminate attacks, wilful killing, the extensive destruction of property, target selection, the lack of precautions taken in attack, the excessive use of force, and the use of weapons such as white phosphorous in civilian areas - demand effective judicial redress. Many of the cases documented by PCHR constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and war crimes. The widespread and apparently systematic violations of customary IHL witnessed in the Gaza Strip may also amount to a crime against humanity. […]”


February 23rd, 2009 - Israel OPT/Fuelling Conflict: Foreign Arms Supplies to Israel/Gaza

Report by Amnesty International


“[…] There is evidence that white phosphorus was used by Israeli forces across Gaza. Amnesty International came across many white phosphorus 155mm artillery carrier shells throughout Gaza with markings M825 A1 - a US-made munition. These are the same markings of the 155mm white phosphorus shells photographed in Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) stockpiles […].


“Several white phosphorus artillery shells hit the UNRWA field operations headquarters in Gaza City on 15 January, causing a large fire which destroyed tens of tons of humanitarian aid, including, medicines, food and other non-food items. Amnesty International delegates who visited the site found the marking PB-91K018-035 on the fragments of one of the artillery shells which is the lot number and indicates that they were assembled by Pine Bluff Arsenal (PB) in 1991 (91) in October (K).


“Amnesty International found that the Israeli army used white phosphorus, a weapon with a highly incendiary effect, in densely-populated civilian residential areas in and around Gaza City, and in the north and south of the Gaza Strip. The organization’s delegates found white phosphorus still burning in residential areas throughout Gaza days after the ceasefire came into effect on 18 January - that is, up to three weeks after the white phosphorus artillery shells had been fired by Israeli forces. Amnesty International considers that the repeated use of white phosphorus in this way in densely-populated civilian areas constitutes a form of indiscriminate attack, and amounts to a war crime.


“White phosphorus is a weapon intended to provide a smokescreen for troop movements on the battlefield. When each 155mm artillery shell bursts, it releases 116 wedges impregnated with white phosphorus which ignite on contact with oxygen and can scatter, depending on the height at which it is burst (and wind conditions), over an area at least the size of a football pitch. In addition to the indiscriminate effect of air-bursting such a weapon, firing such shells as artillery exacerbates the likelihood that civilians will be affected. When white phosphorus lands on skin it burns deeply through muscle and into the bone, continuing to burn until deprived of oxygen. It can contaminate other parts of the patient's body or even those treating the injuries.


“[…] A 16-year-old girl, Samia Salman Al-Manay'a, was asleep in her home in the Jabalia refugee camp, north of Gaza City, when a phosphorus shell landed on the first floor of the house at 8pm on 10 January. Ten days later, from her hospital bed, she told Amnesty International that she was still experiencing intense pain due to the burns to her face and legs. ‘The pain is piercing. It's as though a fire is burning in my body. It's too much for me to bear. In spite of all the medicine they are giving me the pain is still so strong.’ […]”


February 12th, 2009 - Gaza Board of Inquiry

Press Release by the Office of the Secretary General of the United Nations


“[…] The Secretary-General wishes to announce that the UN Board of Inquiry into incidents in Gaza has commenced its work in New York today, and is expected to travel soon to the region. The Board is led by Mr. Ian Martin (UK) and includes, as its other members, Mr. Larry Johnson (US), Mr. Sinha Basnayake (Sri Lanka) and Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Eichenberger (Switzerland). The Board of Inquiry will review and investigate a number of specific incidents that occurred in the Gaza Strip between 27 December 2008 and 19 January 2009 and in which death or injuries occurred at, and/or damage was done to, United Nations premises or in the course of United Nations operations. The Secretary-General expects that the Board will enjoy the full co-operation of all parties concerned.


“The Board of Inquiry will report to the Secretary-General upon completion of its investigation. The Secretary-General will review the report, and decide, at that point, what further steps to take. […]”


February 6th, 2009 - Visit of the Minister of Justice/Palestinian National Authority to the ICC

Press Release by the Office of the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court


“[…] In accordance with the Rome Statute of the ICC (Statute), the Court’s jurisdiction extends to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed on the territory of a State Party, or by a national of a State Party. In addition, alleged crimes can come under investigation and prosecution before the ICC if a relevant nonState Party or Parties voluntarily accept(s) the jurisdiction of the Court on an ad hoc basis (Article 12(3) of the Statute) or if the Security Council refers the situation to the Prosecutor (Article 13(b)).


“On 22 January 2009, the Prosecutor received Dr. Ali Khashan, Minister of Justice of the Palestinian National Authority, who briefed the Prosecutor on the current situation. The same day, Dr. Khashan, on behalf of the Palestinian National Authority, lodged a declaration pursuant to Article 12 (3) of the Statute with the Registrar of the Court, and the Registrar acknowledged receipt of the declaration.


“Since 27 December 2008, the OTP has also received 213 communications under Article 15 by individuals and NGOs, related to the situation context of Israel and the Palestinian Territories; some of them were made public by the senders. As per normal practice, the Office is considering all information, including open sources.


“The Office will carefully examine all relevant issues related to the jurisdiction of the Court, including whether the declaration by the Palestinian National Authority accepting the exercise of jurisdiction by the ICC meet statutory requirements; whether the alleged crimes fall within the category of crimes defined in the Statute, and whether there are national proceedings in relation to those crimes. […]”


January 22nd, 2009 - The Incendiary IDF

Report by Human Rights Watch


“[…] Throughout the recent war in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) insisted that it took extraordinary care to spare civilians. But it then prevented journalists and human rights monitors from entering Gaza during the conflict to independently verify this claim.


“Now that Human Rights Watch and other observers have been let in, it has become clear that hundreds of Palestinian civilians were not the only casualties of the fighting. So was the credibility of the IDF. […]


“The IDF’s credibility probably took the biggest hit on the issue of its use of white phosphorous. A typical artillery shell of white phosphorous releases 116 phosphorus-soaked wedges which, upon contact with oxygen, burn intensely, releasing a distinctive plume of smoke. That smoke can be used legitimately to obscure troop movements, but white phosphorous can be devastating when used in urban areas, igniting civilian structures and causing people horrific burns. Its use by the IDF in densely populated sections of Gaza violated the legal requirement to take all feasible precautions during military operations to avoid harming civilians. It never should have been deployed.


“The IDF has tried to defend itself with denial and obfuscation. It first denied using white phosphorous at all. Then, when that proved untenable, it claimed that use was limited to unpopulated areas of Gaza. Neither claim is true. On Jan. 9, 10 and 15, a Human Rights Watch military expert personally observed white phosphorous being fired from an artillery battery and air burst over Gaza City and the Jabalya refugee camp. Its telltale jellyfish-like plume was a dead giveaway, as can be seen from many photographs that are now emerging from Gaza of white phosphorous raining down on civilian areas.


“The Times of London also photographed an IDF artillery battery firing white phosphorous shells. The shells are color coded and labeled with the IDF term for white phosphorous - ‘exploding smoke.’ They are also marked with the code used by the U.S. manufacturer of white phosphorous - M825A1. Similarly marked and color-coded shells and other evidence of white-phosphorous use have now been recovered from urban areas of Gaza where they fell to earth. […]”


December 2008 - Responding to Hamas Attacks from Gaza/Issues of Proportionality

Background Paper by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs


“[…] Israel has adopted the principles of international humanitarian law outlined above and the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has enshrined them in its training, operational planning and orders. As regards the selection of targets, IDF practice requires that a distinction be made between military objectives and civilian objects. Similarly, in relation to the question of proportionality, IDF doctrine requires a commander to refrain from an attack that is expected to inflict incidental harm on the civilian population that is excessive in proportion to the expected military gain. In practice this requires the IDF and the commander in the field to assess both the expected military gain and the potential of collateral injury to civilians in the area.


“Further to these measures, and where it possible to do so without compromising the effectiveness of an operation, the IDF makes strenuous efforts to give advance notice to the civilian population in the vicinity of military targets, including places used by terrorists for storing weapons and launching attacks, so that they have an opportunity to leave the area. The warnings are carried out by means of the dropping of leaflets in Arabic, telephone calls and radio announcements. By encouraging civilians to leave such areas, these means have been found to be effective in saving lives.


“By virtue of these and other measures, taken in accordance with the established principles of international law, Israel seeks to avoid or minimize civilian casualties. Each operation and target is considered on an individual basis in order to ensure that it meets the tests of distinction and proportionality. Frequently this means the rejection of proposed military operations when the likelihood of collateral damage to civilians and their property is considered too high.


“Finally, and alongside the measures set out above, it should be noted that Israel is making major efforts, even in the context of the current hostilities, to ensure that the humanitarian needs of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip are met, by facilitating the transfer of essential supplies, such as food, medicine and fuel. […]”


April 23rd, 1996 - Artillery Manual Cannon Gunnery - FM 6-40: Chapter 13/Special Munition

Excerpt of a Field Manual by the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps (5,6 MB)


“[…] Smoke projectiles are used for smoke screens, obscuring smoke, and marking targets for aircraft.


“[…] a. Types. The three types of smoke projectiles areas follows:


“(1) Hexachloroethane. Hexachloroethane (HC) smoke (smk) projectiles are available for 105-mm and 155-mm howitzers. They are used for screening, obscuration, spotting, and signaling purposes. The projectile has no casualty-producing effects. This base-ejection projectile is ballistically similar to the HE projectile. It is fitted with a mechanical time fuze M565 or M577. The round expels smoke canisters that emit smoke for a period of 40 to 90 seconds.


“(2) Burster-type white phosphorus. White phosphorus projectiles are available for 105-mm and 155-mm howitzers. They are bursting-tube type projectiles that can be fired with point-detonating (PD) or MTSQ fuzes. The projectile has an incendiary-producing effect and is ballistically similar to the HE projectile. Normally, shell WP is employed for its incendiary effect. The projectile also can be used for screening, spotting, and signaling purposes.


“(3) M825 white phosphorus. The M825 WP projectile is an FA-delivered 155-mm base-ejection projectile designed to produce a smoke screen on the ground for a duration of 5 to 15 minutes. It consists of two major components--the projectile carrier and the payload. The projectile carrier delivers the payload to the target. The payload consists of 116 WP-saturated felt wedges. The smoke screen is produced when a predetermined fuze action causes ejection of the payload from the projectile. After ejection, the WP-saturated felt wedges in the payload fall to the ground in an elliptical pattern. Each wedge then becomes a point or source of smoke. The M825 is ballistically similar to the M483A1 (DPICM) family of projectiles. […]”


Chemical Warfare in Gaza

Artillery round is fired

WP attack on Gaza city

“Collateral damage”


Photo Credits




1) Israeli artillery shells explode with a chemical agent designed to create smokescreen for ground forces - January 5th, 2009 - Patrick Baz/Agence France Presse/Getty Images;


M825 white phosphorus artillery shells - made in USA


1) The pale blue 155mm rounds are clearly marked with the designation M825A1, an American-made white phosphorus munition - January 8th, 2009 - Times Online/Reuters;

2) White phosphorus projectiles and Israeli soldiers - January 2009 - Reuters;

3) M825A1 155mm projectiles, painted light green to designate a munition containing white phosphorus, stand fuzed and ready with an IDF artillery unit firing into Gaza. - January 2009 - Reuters;


Chemical Warfare in Gaza


1) An Israeli army mobile artillery piece fired toward targets in the southern Gaza Strip. - January 4th, 2009 - Sebastian Scheiner/Associated Press;

2) Gaza City on Sunday, nine days into Israel’s offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Ground troops and tanks cut swaths through the Gaza Strip early Sunday, bisecting the coastal territory and surrounding its biggest city. - January 4th, 2009 - Khalil Hamra/Associated Press;

3) Palestinian Akram Abu Roka is treated for burns at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. The hospital’s chief doctor said the injuries might have been caused by munitions containing white phosphorus. Human Rights Watch said Sunday that Israel’s military has fired artillery shells packed with the incendiary agent over populated areas of Gaza, putting civilians at risk. - January 11th, 2009 - Associated Press;


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