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July 21st, 2010 - Israel to Restrict Use of White Phosphorus Munitions
By Patrick Moser
Agence France Presse
July 21, 2010
Jerusalem - Israel will restrict its use of white phosphorus munitions and seek to limit civilian casualties in future wars, it said in a report to the UN secretary general released this week.
"The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) chief of general staff ordered the establishment of a clear doctrine and orders on the issue of various munitions which contain white phosphorous," said the 37-page report, posted on the Israeli foreign ministry's website.
"These instructions are currently being implemented."
It said the military has also implemented changes in combat doctrine designed "to further minimise civilian casualties and damage to civilian property in the future."
It said that a "humanitarian affairs officer" would be integrated in each combat unit, from battalion level up.
Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi has also ordered that troops be trained to deal with "specific humanitarian aspects, including involving prevention of harm to medical crews, facilities and vehicles."
Israel has faced sharp condemnation for the high civilian toll and the use of white phosphorus munitions in the devastating 22-day offensive it launched in December 2008 in response to daily rocket attacks by Gaza's Hamas rulers and other Palestinian armed groups.
Human rights groups say that more than half of the 1,400 Palestinians killed in the war did not take part in the hostilities, including 320 minors.
Rights groups also say Israel made widespread use of white phosphorus and that Gaza hospitals had been inundated with victims of white phosphorus burns.
Under international law, white phosphorus is banned for use near civilians, but is permitted for creating a smokescreen.
The Israeli armed forces insist they did their utmost to avoid civilian casualties.
While Israel sharply rejects claims from the UN probe led by South African judge Richard Goldstone that its forces committed war crimes during the war, or targeted civilians, it admits some "mistakes" were made.
The report said the military has initiated a total of 47 criminal investigations into specific incidents during the Cast Lead offensive, and that some have resulted in criminal indictments and trials.
It cited among others the case of two soldiers indicted for forcing a nine-year-old boy at gunpoint to check bags they believed might be rigged with explosives.
The report, which has been delivered to the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, also points out that Israel's military conducted a review of its operations in Gaza in the wake of the offensive.
The report is an update of a similar document issued in January.
"It shows we are acting with full transparency and want to cooperate with the UN and the international community," said foreign affairs spokesman Ygal Palmor.
Copyright © 2010 AFP.