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July 26th, 2006 - Israel Accused of Using Phosphorous Bombs in Lebanon
Israel defends its use of such weapons
From Ma’an News Agency
July 26, 2006
Beirut, 26 July - The Israeli military has defended itself following allegations by Lebanese government officials, doctors and an international human rights organisation that phosphorous bombs have been used, and have harmed civilians.
"The IDF's use of weapons and ammunition conforms to international law. The specific claims are being checked based on the information provided to us," the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) said in a statement sent to IRIN.
Lebanon's Information Minister Ghazi Aridi has said "Israel is using internationally prohibited weapons against civilians." Aridi failed to specify which weapons, but his comment followed claims that Israel had used bombs containing phosphorous.
Phosphorus is a chemical that burns the skin and increases risk of mortality because of the absorption of chemicals into the body resulting in organ failure. White phosphorus continues to burn until consumed completely or deprived of oxygen. In some cases it can burn right down to the bone.
"Israel has always used them [phosphorous bombs]," said Timor Goksel, a former spokesman of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) who served for over 20 years in southern Lebanon.
"[Phosphorous bombs were] mostly used in the terrain, not in urban areas, which is allowed. Phosphorus bombs are allowed to light up a battlefield, [but cannot be used] to firebomb buildings."
"I've seen the victims' burns in the hospital of Tyre, and they almost certainly have been caused by phosphorous bombs," he told IRIN.
Protocol III of the Geneva Conventions, to which Israel is a signatory, but with legal reservations, prohibits and restricts the use of incendiary weapons on civilian populations.
A Belgian doctor of Lebanese descent, Bachir Cham, heads the Assairane Hospital in the southern city of Sidon. "Following a bomb attack near Sidon, we had eight bodies brought to the hospital," said Cham. "Normally, people killed or injured by a bomb explosion or in a car accident show traces of burns or blood. But these bodies showed neither. The skin was completely black, while the muscle underneath was intact."
Cham, a heart and vascular specialist who taught at universities in Brussels and Paris, took 24 skin samples from the bodies and sent them to the World Health Organization in Geneva. He also took photos. According to Cham, similar burns cases have been reported in other hospitals. Doctors say many patients have been treated with severe burns in the southern city of Tyre.
The emergencies' director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Peter Boukhaert, who is currently in Lebanon, said HRW researchers in Israel had been able to confirm Israel's use of phosphorus bombs along the border with Lebanon.
But deeper inside Lebanon, it had been harder to establish the use of phosphorus. "So far, the burns we've seen in Lebanon could have been caused by normal bombs fire."