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After the war, Gazans seek answers on white phosphorus

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Israel initially denied that white phosphorus munitions were used in its 22-day war with Hamas. It now says, "there was no illegal use of phosphorus or any other material," according to the spokesman for Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Amid the allegations that white phosphorus shells were used in populated areas, Israel announced an investigation.

"In response to the claims of NGOs and claims in the foreign press relating to the use of phosphorus weapons, and in order to remove any ambiguity, an investigative team has been established in the Southern Command to look into the issue," said an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman. "It must be noted that international law does not prohibit the use of weaponry containing phosphorus to create smoke screens and for marking purposes. The IDF only uses weapons permitted by law."

An Israeli foreign ministry statement pointed to findings by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which said in mid-January that it found no evidence of illegal phosphorus use. "The investigation of this matter," the spokesman said, was part of "routine IDF checks of its internal operating procedures and in no way indicated any illegal use."

The ICRC has since clarified its position. "The fact that International Humanitarian Law does not specifically prohibit phosphorous weapons does not imply that any specific use of weapons containing this substance is legal," said Peter Herby, head of the ICRC's Arms Unit. "The legality of each incident of use has to be considered in light of all of the fundamental rules I have mentioned. It may be legal or not, depending on a variety of factors."

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