Israel’s military addresses accusations of using white phosphorus in southern Lebanon

In the early hours of Friday local time, the Israeli military responded to an accusation that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) used white phosphorus in southern Lebanon on Thursday.

The Lebanon National News Agency (NNA) claimed that Israeli artillery shelled the outskirts of Rmeish, south Lebanon, with “phosphorus.” Video footage acquired by CNN depicts columns of white smoke above the town’s outskirts, though CNN cannot independently verify the use of phosphorous munitions. In a statement to CNN, the IDF asserted the use of “only legal weapons and ammunition.”

“The IDF utilizes smoke-screen shells as its primary means, and these do not contain white phosphorus. Similar to various Western militaries, the IDF also has smoke-screen shells with white phosphorous, which comply with international law. These shells are specifically designed for creating smoke screens and not for targeting or igniting fires. They do not fall under the legal definition of incendiary weapons,” stated the IDF. The statement further emphasized that IDF protocols mandate the avoidance of using such shells in densely populated areas, with specific exceptions. This adherence surpasses the stipulations of international law.”

Is white phosphorus considered illegal? According to a protocol ratified by Israel in 1995, the use of incendiary weapons, including white phosphorus, is permitted as long as they are not specifically designed to cause burn injuries to individuals, as previously reported by CNN.

While there is no outright prohibition on white phosphorus in conflict, there are limitations on when and where it can be used. For instance, it is against the protocol to deploy white phosphorus against any personnel, whether civilian or military, and it is only allowed against military targets. International law stipulates that incendiary weapons cannot be employed in areas densely populated by civilians.

Israel’s track record with white phosphorus has been contentious. During a Gaza offensive in late 2008, Israel faced widespread condemnation for deploying white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas. In a 2009 report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged that these munitions caused civilian casualties, damaged civilian structures, and violated international humanitarian law by not taking adequate precautions to avoid harm to civilians.

In response to the criticism, Israel pledged to restrict the use of white phosphorus and enhance efforts to safeguard civilians during conflicts. However, the government maintained that its use of white phosphorus was lawful.

In October, Human Rights Watch once again accused Israeli forces of employing white phosphorus in military operations in Gaza and Lebanon. The rights group claimed to have verified videos, one in Lebanon on October 10 and another in Gaza on October 11, showing “multiple airbursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus.” Israel refuted these claims made by Human Rights Watch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *