Human Rights Watch verified videos taken in Lebanon and Gaza on October 10 and 11, 2023, that Israel engaged in airbursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus over the Gaza City port and two rural locations along the Israel-Lebanon border.
Although not entirely banned in warzones, white phosphorus sets fires that burn people and objects and has a significant incendiary effect that can severely burn people and set structures, fields, and other civilian objects in the vicinity on fire. The use of white phosphorus in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, magnifies the risk to civilians and violates the international humanitarian law prohibition on putting civilians at unnecessary risk.”
“Any time that white phosphorus is used in crowded civilian areas, it poses a high risk of excruciating burns and lifelong suffering,” said Lama Fakih, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “White phosphorous is unlawfully indiscriminate when airburst in populated urban areas, where it can burn down houses and cause egregious harm to civilians.”
International humanitarian law requires parties to take all feasible precautions to prevent harm to civilians that can result from military operations.
While there are legitimate uses of white phosphorus, using the munition, “against any military objective within concentrations of civilians is prohibited unless the military objective is clearly separated from the civilians,” Peter Herby wrote in a 2009 opinion for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
It is not clear if this incident would be considered a violation of the laws of armed conflict, Castner wrote in an email.
“We would need to know more about the intended target of this attack, and the intended use of the white phosphorus, to make a definite legal judgment about this particular case,” Castner wrote. “But generally, any attacks that fail to discriminate between civilians and military forces can potentially be a violation of the laws of war.” Washington Post:
In late 2008 to early 2009, Israel has used white phosphorus during its 22-day long campaign in Gaza, which resulted in killing and injuring numerous civilians, and violating International Humanitarian Law, a 2009 report from Human Rights Watch found.