When air-burst, White phosphorous can fall over an area about the size of a football field and burn every thing it touches. (Reuters)
CAIRO — Israel is using white-phosphorus, a chemical that burns away human flesh to the bone, in shelling the densely-populated Gaza Strip, in a violation of international humanitarian laws, a leading international rights group said.
"Human Rights Watch believes the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] is using WP in Gaza," the New York-based group said in a statement on its website.
Since the beginning of the Israeli onslaught on December 27, there have been numerous media reports about the use of white phosphorous in shelling Gaza.
HRW researchers observed multiple air-bursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus near the city of Gaza and the Jabaliya refugee camp over the past days.
"In addition, HRW has analyzed photographs taken by the media on the Israel-Gaza border showing Israeli artillery units handling fused WP artillery shells, as well as video of air bursts over Gaza followed by tendrils of smoke and flame that are highly indicative of WP use."
Israel has repeatedly denied using the controversial chemical during the offensive on Gaza, which has so far killed more than 875 and wounded 3,695 others.
The use of white phosphorus as a weapon, even against military targets situated within population centers, is banned by the 1980 third Convention on Conventional Weapons.
Israel is not a signatory to the convention but its military manuals reflect restrictions on its use.
The Israeli army has admitted before using white phosphorus munitions during its 34-day war on Lebanon in 2006.
The US also used white phosphorus munitions during the siege of the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004 and also defended its act.
White phosphorous, a chemical substance dispersed in artillery shells, bombs, and rockets, causes horrific skin burns and can set structures, fields, and other objects on fire.
"When air-burst as an obscurant, it can fall over an area about the size of a football field, about the same area affected by a cluster bomb," explained the Human Rights Watch.
"WP burns anything it touches."
HRW researchers also warned that white-phosphorus munitions can cause undue suffering to Palestinian civilians through severe burns.
"White phosphorous can burn down houses and cause horrific burns when it touches the skin," said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at the HRW.
Dr Yusef Abu Rish of Gaza City`s Nasser Hospital said at least 55 people were injured early Sunday by white phosphorous shells.
"These people were burned over their bodies in a way that can only be caused by white phosphorous," he told Agence France Presse (AFP).