Two humanitarian organizations and an eyewitness who spoke to CBS News have accused Israeli forces of using white phosphorus shells in theirover the last week, in what critics say could be a violation of international law requiring military forces to take all possible precautions to avoid harming to civilians.
Amnesty International said Friday that photos and video verified by the organization's Crisis Evidence Lab "indicate that Israel has been using white phosphorus ammunition" in densely populated civilian areas of Gaza.
The organization said photos taken on October 9 show Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops had positioned M109 155mm Howitzers near the southern city of Sderot, roughly eight miles from the Gaza border — well within striking distance of the Palestinian territory for the weapons.
Those images show "M825 and M825A1 artillery shells, which are also labeled D528, the US Department of Defense Identification Code (DODIC) for white phosphorus-based rounds," Amnesty said in its statement.
Amnesty said it had reviewed and geolocated video from an attack on October 11 on Gaza City's port and verified that the images show "where white phosphorus ammunition is seen being used in tandem with what seem to be standard high explosive artillery shells."
The IDF, responding to an earlier report claiming white phosphorus use in Gaza by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) organization, strongly denied any use of white phosphorus in Gaza amid its week-long bombardment of the Palestinian territory in retaliation for the unprecedented terror attack launched by the region's Hamas rulers on Oct. 7.
The Reuters news agency quoted an Israeli military spokesman as saying Friday that the "current accusation made against the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) regarding the use of white phosphorus in Gaza is unequivocally false."
"The IDF has not deployed the use of the such munitions," Reuters quoted the IDF as saying.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Israel of using white phosphorus munitions in Gaza and Lebanon in a Thursday report, saying the use of such weapons put civilians at risk of serious and long-term injury.
HRW said it had reviewed multiple social media videos, which it had verified were taken in Gaza City's port, and identified the munitions used in the strike as 155mm white phosphorus artillery shells.
The organization also reviewed two videos from October 10, from locations near the Israel-Lebanon border, that it said showed white phosphorus being used by Israeli forces.
The use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas of Gaza violates the requirement under international humanitarian law to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian injury and loss of life, HRW said.
A witness in heavily bombarded Gaza told CBS News that he saw "white smoke" in the sky Wednesday at the city's port that was consistent with white phosphorus attacks he claimed Israeli forces had carried out in Gaza previously. The witness is a photojournalist who asked not to be named. He said he saw streaks of white smoke falling in the sky over Gaza's port Wednesday morning.
"We saw smoking, white smoking coming from the sky… many lines that, for me, as a photographer working in 2008 and 2009, I remember," the man said.
The Israeli military was accused of using white phosphorus smokescreen munitions during its 2008-2009 offensive in Gaza, although the IDF said in 2013 that it was phasing out use of the weapons.
The witness who spoke to CBS News said he and other journalists smelled garlic as the white smoke fell – a known characteristic of highly flammable white phosphorus.
What is white phosphorous?
White phosphorus is a wax-like chemical substance, often yellowish or colorless, and people who have witnessed attacks often report a garlic-like odor.
It ignites instantly when it comes into contact with oxygen and its primary function in weaponry is to burn fast and bright. It is capable of burning through bone and even metal. It is often used as a marker or to provide visibility during shelling with conventional weapons, but can also be used as a devastatingly effective incendiary munition.
It is not banned as a chemical weapon under international conventions, and the United States has previously admitted to using the chemical in the Fallujah offensive of the Iraq war in 2004.
Use of white phosphorus near civilians is prohibited under Protocol III of the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Israel is not a party to that specific protocol of the U.N. convention, which the U.S. has signed onto.
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