As Israel continued pounding targets in Gaza following the sensational land-sea-air assault on its territories by the Palestinian group Hamas, videos circulated on social media alleging that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has been using banned white phosphorus bombs in the densely populated region.
Several photos, videos, and claims on social media allege that Israeli forces are using white phosphorous on the civilian population of Gaza. The Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory under Israeli blockade, has been governed by Hamas for many years.
One of the most crowded places on Earth, the Gaza Strip is home to over two million people crammed into a 362-square-kilometre sliver of land.
What Is White Phosphorous
White phosphorus is a waxy, yellowish-to-clear chemical with a pungent, garlic-like odour. It is a highly combustible chemical that burns quickly and brightly when exposed to air. It is used in incendiary weapons by militaries around the world, including the United States, for a variety of purposes, such as illuminating targets at night, or to just inflict damage on enemies.
This chemical reaction produces intense heat (about 815 degrees Celsius), light, and thick white smoke, which is used by armies to create smokescreens in sensitive zones.
White phosphorus can cause fast-moving and widespread fires on the ground. Once ignited, the substance is very difficult to put out, as it clings to many surfaces, including skin and clothing. It is incredibly dangerous to civilians because it can cause severe burns that penetrate deep into the tissue and bone, and it can reignite even after treatment.
Examples Of White Phosphorous Usage In Wars
One of the earliest usages of white phosphorous in military battles was reported in the 1800s when Fenian or Irish nationalists used it against British forces. The formulation used by the Irish Republicans came to be known as “Fenian fire”.
The British army used it in both the World Wars. US forces, after invading Iraq, used the chemical weapon against insurgents in the city of Fallujah.
Israel, not unfamiliar with these accusations, admitted that it used phosphorus shells during the battle against Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon War. Several human rights groups alleged that the IDF had used white phosphorous against civilians during the 2008-09 Gaza War, also called Operation Cast Lead.
The Bashar Al-Assad-led Syrian government was accused by a large section of the international community of using chemical weapons, including white phosphorus, during the Syrian crisis.
Recently, the Russian Army allegedly used white phosphorous bombs in the ongoing war against Ukraine.
Banned By The United Nations
In 1972, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling incendiary weapons a “category of arms viewed with horror.”
“Incendiary weapons are weapons or munitions designed to set fire to objects or cause burn or respiratory injury to people through the action of flame, heat, or combination thereof, resulting from a chemical reaction of a flammable substance such as napalm or white phosphorus,” the UN says.
In 1980, the world agreed to ban or limit the use of certain weapons that cause too much pain or harm to civilians. Protocol III of this agreement restricts the use of weapons that set things on fire.