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Gaza: Israel under fire for alleged white phosphorus use

On Tuesday, the Israeli army denied using white phosphorus munitions. A Norwegian doctor claims Israel is using Gaza as a 'test laboratory for new weapons,' including Dense Inert Metal Explosives, or DIME.

White Phosphorus? Israel denies using harmful white phosphorus munitions in its explosions, such as the one shown above, on Jan. 3 in Gaza.

Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

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Marc Garlasco has been on the northern border of Gaza for the past five days watching what he says are white phosphorus munitions exploding over a crowded refugee camp.

Mr. Garlasco, a senior military analyst for New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), says that the way Israel is using the incendiary device is illegal. White phosphorus shells contain more than 100 felt filaments that ignite upon contact with the atmosphere, drift to earth, and burn intensely for at least 10 to 12 minutes.

The usage of white phosphorus is not illegal under international law if it's used in military operations as a smoke screen to cover troop movements or against bunkers, armored vehicles, and ammunition dumps. But its use is forbidden against people – civilians and soldiers alike – under nearly all military codes and laws.

"The use of white phosphorus is banned as a weapon that causes 'unnecessary suffering,' " says Mark Ellis, director of the International Bar Association in London. "It isn't to be used in civilian areas, or indeed against people since it creates horrible damage to the human body, and unnecessarily so."

Israel, which has been charged with using white phosphorus in Lebanon, says it is not using white phosphorus in its war against Hamas in Gaza, now in its 18th day.

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