Israel rains fire on Gaza with phosphorus Shells/Targets UN Schools

January 6 2009

By Sheera Frenkel in Jerusalem and Michael Evans Defence Editor

Artillery shells explode above Gaza City

(Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli artillery shells explode with a chemical agent designed to create smokescreen for ground forces

Artillery guns fire towards the Gaza Strip(Shay Shmueli/AFP/Getty Images)

Artillery guns fire towards the Gaza Strip from the Israeli side of the border

Palestinians carry the injured to hospital in Beit Lahiyah
(Fadi Adwan/AP)Palestinians carry the injured to hospital in Beit Lahiyah, one of the refugee towns in the north of Gaza
Mourners pray near the bodies of Palestinians
(Ismail Zaydah/Reuters)
Mourners pray near the bodies of Palestinians killed after an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip

Exchange of fire seen between area of the Erez Crossing and Beit Lahiya

(Amir Cohen/Reuters)
Exchange of fire seen between area of the Erez Crossing and Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip

Smoke rises into the air and an artillery shell explodes over the central Gaza Strip

Israeli artillery shells explode with a chemical agent designed to create smokescreen for ground forces (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel is believed to be using controversial white phosphorus shells to screen its assault on the heavily populated Gaza Strip yesterday. The weapon, used by British and US forces in Iraq, can cause horrific burns but is not illegal if used as a smokescreen.

As the Israeli army stormed to the edges of Gaza City and the Palestinian death toll topped 500, the tell-tale shells could be seen spreading tentacles of thick white smoke to cover the troops’ advance. “These explosions are fantastic looking, and produce a great deal of smoke that blinds the enemy so that our forces can move in,” said one Israeli security expert. Burning blobs of phosphorus would cause severe injuries to anyone caught beneath them and force would-be snipers or operators of remote-controlled booby traps to take cover. Israel admitted using white phosphorus during its 2006 war with Lebanon.

The use of the weapon in the Gaza Strip, one of the world’s mostly densely population areas, is likely to ignite yet more controversy over Israel’s offensive, in which more than 2,300 Palestinians have been wounded.

The Geneva Treaty of 1980 stipulates that white phosphorus should not be used as a weapon of war in civilian areas, but there is no blanket ban under international law on its use as a smokescreen or for illumination. However, Charles Heyman, a military expert and former major in the British Army, said: “If white phosphorus was deliberately fired at a crowd of people someone would end up in The Hague. White phosphorus is also a terror weapon. The descending blobs of phosphorus will burn when in contact with skin.”

The Israeli military last night denied using phosphorus, but refused to say what had been deployed. “Israel uses munitions that are allowed for under international law,” said Captain Ishai David, spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces. “We are pressing ahead with the second stage of operations, entering troops in the Gaza Strip to seize areas from which rockets are being launched into Israel.”

The civilian toll in the first 24 hours of the ground offensive — launched after a week of bombardment from air, land and sea— was at least 64 dead. Among those killed were five members of a family who died when an Israeli tank shell hit their car and a paramedic who died when a tank blasted his ambulance. Doctors at Gaza City’s main hospital said many women and children were among the dead and wounded.

The Israeli army also suffered its first fatality of the offensive when one of its soldiers was killed by mortar fire. More than 30 soldiers were wounded by mortars, mines and sniper fire.

Israel has brushed aside calls for a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into the besieged territory, where medical supplies are running short.

With increasingly angry anti-Israeli protests spreading around the world, Gordon Brown described the violence in Gaza as “a dangerous moment”.

White phosphorus: the smoke-screen chemical that can burn to the bone

White phosphorus bursts into a deep-yellow flame when it is exposed to oxygen, producing a thick white smoke.

It is used as a smokescreen or for incendiary devices, but can also be deployed as an anti-personnel flame compound capable of causing potentially fatal burns.

Phosphorus burns are almost always second or third-degree because the particles do not stop burning on contact with skin until they have entirely disappeared — it is not unknown for them to reach the bone.

Geneva conventions ban the use of phosphorus as an offensive weapon against civilians, but its use as a smokescreen is not prohibited by international law.

Israel previously used white phosphorus during its war with Lebanon in 2006.

It has been used frequently by British and US forces in recent wars, notably during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Its use was criticised widely.

White phosphorus has the slang name “Willy Pete”, which dates from the First World War. It was commonly used in the Vietnam era.


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By Azmi Keshawi and James Hider

Amid the tidal wave of human misery swamping Gaza City’s central hospital a horrified Norwegian volunteer doctor found a minute to type a text message on his mobile phone to friends back home.

“We are wading in death, blood, and amputees. Many children. A pregnant woman. I have never experienced anything so terrible. Now we hear tanks. Pass it on, send it around, shout it out. Anything. DO SOMETHING! DO MORE! We are living in a history book now, all of us.” It was signed Mads Gilbert, one of two Norwegian doctors toiling relentlessly alongside exhausted Palestinian medics.

So far, despite a flurry of diplomatic activity, no one has done anything. As Israel and Hamas fought a bloody battle to the death on Gaza’s tightly packed streets and alleys, there was no slowing of the flow of broken bodies in al-Shifa hospital. To make matters worse, the United Nations said that Gaza was about to run out of food, water and basic medicines in a matter of days.

Israel has said that it is making surgical strikes to cut Hamas out of the Gaza society. It is a brutal surgery, though, with blunt instruments and without anaesthetic. Entire families vanish beneath the rubble of broken homes. With Hamas’s die-hard fighters taking cover among a terrified civilian population, there is nowhere to run.

Bassim Naim, the Hamas Health Minister, ordered Hamas fighters yesterday not to use ambulances to move around after his nephew, Arafat Abed el-Daim, a paramedic, was killed when an Israeli tank shell hit his ambulance. As mourners gathered at a traditional tent to pay their respects to the young man’s family, another Israeli shell struck the area, killing three people and wounding 40, medics said.

“We were sitting in the mourning tent when suddenly they bombed us. We ran to rush the casualties to hospital but they bombed again,” Jabr al-Daim, an uncle, said.

In the al-Shifa mortuary — which is quickly becoming as overpopulated as the tiny territory that it serves — the father of the Samoudi family wept, speechless, over the corpses of his three children, the youngest a baby, the eldest just a few years old.

“They are still digging his wife and his other kids out of the rubble,” a medic said. The family was obliterated in Zaytoun, where fighting has been particularly heavy.

Saber Abu Aisha, whose brother was killed with his two wives and four children when an F16 rocket struck the basement directly beneath his apartment, vented his anger in the mortuary, where grieving relatives kissed their loved ones goodbye on the floors and in freezers. “The Israelis claim they are not killing civilians but that is all they are killing. They are barbarians, and the whole world should do something,” he said.

“We are a family, we have nothing to do with the resistance or this fighting,” his brother, Amr, said. “It is random killing to break the will of the Palestinian people.”

But the killing went on, as Israeli bombers blew up the houses of Hamas military leaders, often destroying nearby buildings.

Later in the day ambulance drivers brought in the body of a pregnant mother and her four children, killed in the Shurjaiyah area. Palestinian medics say that since Israel launched its ground offensive on Saturday night, 28 children and 13 women have been killed. More than 100 children have died since Israel began Operation Cast Lead ten days ago. One bereaved father who had lost 13 relatives in an explosion east of Gaza City pleaded with his dead son to answer him. “Get up, boy, get up. Please get up. I am your dad and I need you.”

Thousands of Gazans have fled their homes to escape the immediate onslaught of the Israeli tanks battling Hamas fighters who refuse to halt the rocket fire that has provoked this campaign. The UN refugee agency has quickly converted its schools into shelters but thousands more are leaving their homes to be nearer to the shops that are still open or to the ever-decreasing number of areas that have a few hours of electricity a day. Travelling across town is a potentially lethal undertaking.

The refugee agency has all but run out of wheat to supply Gaza’s bakeries, while the World Food Programme has stocks but cannot reach the warehouses because of the shelling. People wait in queues for hours to buy a loaf of bread. “I’ve been here for three hours and I will have to wait longer. Maybe a missile will bomb us so we can be rid of such a miserable life,” said Abu Othman, a father of seven, as he queued for bread. He said that his anger at Hamas’s rocket fire had been supplanted by a new rage. “I used to criticise the rockets. Maybe I still do but not like before. Now I want to see buses blown up in Israel,” he said.

Israel and its banks have cut off supplies of cash to Gaza, meaning that people increasingly have no money to buy the meagre supplies available. Maxwell Gaylard, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator, said that a quarter of a million people were without running water. “There is an overall atmosphere of fear,” he said.

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People are going to schools for refuge as their homes are being attacked and there is no place for them to go.

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Gaza hospital overwhelmed by dead and wounded Families in fear of being killed by the Israelis are leaving their homes gathering in schools and other locations
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Over 30 Palestinians have been killed in two separate Israeli strikes on clearly-marked United Nations schools where civilians were seeking refuge from the ongoing violence in Gaza, which is into its eleventh day.

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Published in: on January 6, 2009 at 7:05 pm  Comments Off on Israel rains fire on Gaza with phosphorus Shells/Targets UN Schools  
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