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After Gaza, Israeli forces dropped white phosphorus bombs on southern Lebanon: Report

Israeli forces have used white phosphorus bombs in at least 17 municipalities across southern Lebanon, including populated residential areas, since October last year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

“It verified the use of white phosphorus munitions by Israeli forces in at least 17 municipalities across south Lebanon since October 2023, including 5 municipalities where airburst munitions were unlawfully used over populated residential areas," HRW stated in a report, adding that this illegal act has put civilian lives in grave risk.

The report said the use of white phosphorus also contributed to civilian displacement from their homes in southern Lebanon.

"Under international humanitarian law, the use of airburst white phosphorus is unlawfully indiscriminate in populated areas," it warned.

"Israel’s widespread use of white phosphorus in south Lebanon highlights the need for stronger international law on incendiary weapons," the international rights watchdog said.

It said Israel is not a party to Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, whereas Lebanon is.

Tension has flared along the border between Lebanon and Israel amid intermittent exchanges of fire between Israeli forces and Hezbollah, in the deadliest clashes since the two sides fought a full-scale war in 2006.

The border tension comes amid an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip that has killed over 36,500 people since a major attack by the Palestinian group Hamas on Oct. 7 last year.

The Israeli army has used white phosphorus on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, as evidenced by images provided by Anadolu, which Amnesty International used in its report released on Oct. 15, 2023, stating that the Crisis Evidence Lab confirmed that Israeli military units striking Gaza were equipped with white phosphorus artillery rounds.


White phosphorus

According to international law, the use of white phosphorus in areas with a dense civilian population is prohibited. The smoke from white phosphorus, when inhaled, can cause sudden lung injuries and suffocation.

White phosphorus can cause second- and third-degree burns to the skin and readily ignites upon contact with oxygen. When used as a bomb, it not only has explosive effects but also leads to fires.

Fires caused by white phosphorus bombs can spread over large areas and continue until the phosphorus is depleted.

Treatment of individuals exposed to white phosphorus, whether through inhalation, contact, or ingestion, is challenging due to the substance's contagious nature. Those treating injuries caused by the bomb need special training to protect themselves.

Exposure to white phosphorus at certain intervals can lead to severe deformations and fractures of the jawbone.


White phosphorus bombs in international law

Under the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons law, attacks with incendiary weapons from the air in civilian areas are prohibited.

There is no legal obstacle to using white phosphorus for purposes such as camouflaging military units in open areas.

However, debates continue regarding the impact and harm caused by the immediate use of white phosphorus on individuals, potentially leading to it being considered a war crime.


Israel has used white phosphorus before

In a 2010 report on the impunity of violations of the laws of war in Gaza, Human Rights Watch said that Israel used munitions containing white phosphorus during its Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip between December 2008 and January 2009.

The report showed that Israel's use of munitions containing white phosphorus in densely populated areas was considered part of the policies pursued by political and military leaders that led to violations of the laws of war.


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