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From the field

The Gaza Strip - 12 Jan. '09: Israel is using phosphorous illegally in Gaza Strip bombings

Information received by B'Tselem and several media reports indicate that the army is using phosphorous in the Gaza Strip. This weapon serves primarily to create screening, enabling forces to advance on the ground without being exposed. In addition, however, the phosphorous burns everything in comes in contact with, causing severe burns to humans. It is also capable of setting buildings and fields on fire.

International humanitarian law does not prohibit use of this weapon as such. However, the Third Protocol to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, which relates to incendiary weapons, states that such weapons may only be used against military objects. When the military object is located within a civilian area, the use of phosphorous is absolutely prohibited.

Israel has not signed the Protocol, but the rule it states is based on two customary principles of international law, which are binding on Israel. The first is the prohibition on using weapons that cannot distinguish between combatants and civilians, and the second is the prohibition on using weapons which by their nature cause unnecessary suffering.  

The use of such a weapon in a densely populated civilian area like the Gaza Strip breaches these two principles, and violates Israel's obligation to take every possible precaution to limit harm to civilians.

B'Tselem demands that the army immediately cease using phosphorous in the Gaza Strip.