Severe and deep burns characterize most of the injuries resulting from the ongoing Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip since the seventh of last October, as said by Doctor Muhammad Al-Hawajra, the medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders at the Al-Shifa Medical Complex in Gaza, who we spoke with before the Israeli army stormed the hospital.
Al-Hawajra told the BBC that most often burn injuries of this type require surgical intervention, skin grafts and restoration, and the least harmful ones require a long period of treatment, amid a shortage of ointments and necessary medical tools, and a very poor health situation.
But Al-Hawajra did not specify the cause of these burns, whether they were caused by the use of white phosphorus or other weapons. “What we noticed as doctors were severe burns. We are not concerned with the type of weapon as much as we are concerned with the plan for treating and assisting the injured.”
Did Israel use white phosphorus in its war on Gaza?
Although the Israeli army denied the use of white phosphorus in Gaza, international organizations confirmed that they had evidence of its use in Gaza and southern Lebanon. International organizations also stressed in their reports the prohibition of the use of white phosphorus over populated areas.
Reuters quoted statements by the Israeli army in which he said that the current accusation against the army of using white phosphorus in Gaza was “wrong,” but he did not deny its use of the weapon in Lebanon.
However, Ahmed Ben Shamsi, director of communications for the Middle East and North Africa for Human Rights Watch, told the BBC, “We documented Israel’s use of white phosphorus and explosive weapons, and the use of such weapons in densely populated areas such as Gaza is a violation of the laws of war, as all parties must take action.” “The warring parties must take all necessary steps to avoid targeting civilians.”
In a report issued by Human Rights Watch last month, the organization said that it concluded, based on verified videos and witness accounts, that “Israeli forces used white phosphorus in military operations carried out in Lebanon and Gaza on October 10 and 11, respectively.”
The organization added, “The videos show several aerial explosions of white phosphorus fired from cannons over the port of Gaza City and two rural sites along the Israeli-Lebanese border.”
Amnesty International also documented “the Israeli army’s use of white phosphorus artillery shells in densely populated civilian areas in Gaza, some of which could be considered attacks that do not distinguish between civilians and military personnel, and therefore are unlawful.”
Amnesty International also said in its statement issued at the end of last month that “the Israeli army fired artillery shells containing white phosphorus, an incendiary weapon, during military operations along Lebanon’s southern border.”
Since October 7, Israel has killed more than 12,000 people, most of them children and women, in its war on the Gaza Strip, which has been besieged for more than 16 years, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Israeli authorities say that about 1,200 were killed in Hamas’ military attack that day on the Israeli side.
What is white phosphorus and what is its effect?
The World Health Organization defines white phosphorus as “a chemical substance that appears either yellow or colorless, and some describe its smell as resembling garlic, and ignites immediately upon contact with oxygen,” but it also clarifies that “it is not a chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Convention, because it acts as a “A burning factor, not through its chemical effect in biological processes.”
According to the information contained in the World Health Organization report, white phosphorus ignites spontaneously at temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius, and continues to burn until it is completely oxidized or deprived of oxygen. Burning phosphorus produces dense smoke containing a mixture of phosphorus oxides.
Military analyst Mamoun Abu Nawar says that white phosphorus may be considered a chemical weapon depending on the percentages of white phosphorus used in the weapon. However, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International explain that white phosphorus is not classified as a chemical weapon, but “it causes horrific injuries when it comes into contact with the human body.” “.
Chemical engineer Lama Abu Atila explains that despite the toxicity of white phosphorus and its chemical properties, it is not classified as a chemical weapon, as it was originally made for use for military camouflage purposes, and over empty spaces and not against individuals and residential areas, because it is incendiary and the gases emitted from it are extremely harmful.
Abu Atila explains its mechanism of action: “White phosphorus is a chemical substance, and when it is released, it reacts strongly with oxygen and causes an intense flash of light and a large amount of smoke, which makes it ideal for use for the purposes of camouflage and covering military movements in the field.”
She says that some may argue that white phosphorus is a chemical weapon because it conforms to what was stated in Paragraph A of Article II of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which defined chemical weapons as “toxic chemicals and their precursors.” [ أي مادة كيميائية مفاعلة تدخل في أي مرحلة في إنتاج مادة كيميائية سامة بأي طريقة كانت] With the exception of non-prohibited prepared materials….”
However, Abu Atila explains that paragraphs B and C of the same article show that white phosphorus is excluded from chemical weapons because it was not designed to cause death, but rather to conceal the movements of soldiers or as a smoke screen to camouflage targets, as its non-classification as a chemical is based on the purposes of its use. “But after the Israeli occupation army used it against residential neighborhoods and civilians, this requires reconsidering the methodologies for classifying weapons,” Abu Atila said.
Israel has not ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Amnesty International says: “White phosphorus is not considered a chemical weapon because it works primarily with the force of heat and flame and not with poisons.” [يعمل كعامل حارق وليس من خلال تأثيره الكيميائي على العمليات الحيوية]“This makes it an incendiary weapon,” and Human Rights Watch agrees.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an American organization, says that white phosphorus is a toxic substance produced from rocks containing phosphate.
The purpose of using white phosphorous weapons is not supposed to be to harm humans, according to Benchemsi of Human Rights Watch. Its purpose is “to obscure targets for military purposes, but its use becomes prohibited when it is over populated areas, causing extensive damage and very horrific fires in objects or failure.” In the body’s organs when phosphorus enters the bloodstream.
Human Rights Watch details the harms of using white phosphorus as causing “severe burns that often reach the bones, heal slowly, and may develop into infections. If all the fragments of white phosphorus are not removed, it can lead to a worsening of the condition of the wounds after treatment, and they may flare up again when Exposure to oxygen.
The organization adds that “white phosphorus burns, when they exceed 10 percent of the human body, are often fatal, and may also cause damage to the respiratory system and failure of the body’s organs.”
The damage does not stop at just burns. Human Rights Watch explains that survivors of initial injuries may continue to suffer for life. Permanent tightening of muscles and other tissues as a result of injury can paralyze movement, while painful treatments and scars that change appearance lead to psychological damage and exclusion. social.
Amnesty International says Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons prohibits the use of air-dropped incendiary weapons in civilian concentrations, and also limits the lawful use of ground-launched incendiary weapons where there are civilian concentrations.