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Israeli army probes use of phosphorus in Gaza: report

Israel's army has launched an inquiry into whether paratroopers used banned white phosphorus shells close to civilians during the Gaza offensive, a newspaper said Wednesday.

world Updated: Jan 22, 2009 02:26 IST

Israel's army has launched an inquiry into whether paratroopers used banned white phosphorus shells close to civilians during the Gaza offensive, a newspaper said Wednesday.

Haaretz said the probe centred on the firing of some 20 shells -- which are banned for use in populated areas -- around Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip by a reserve parachute brigade.

Reserve colonel Shai Alkalai was put in charge of the investigations, the paper said, but an army spokesman told AFP it was not an official inquiry.

Haaretz said the army used two types of phosphorus shells and considered them as smoke bombs.

Under international law, white phosphorus is banned for use near civilians, but is permitted for creating a smokescreen.

The report came after Amnesty International alleged Monday that Israel could be guilty of war crimes, saying the use of the shells in a civilian areas was "clear and undeniable."

Delegates from the rights group visited Gaza and "found indisputable evidence of widespread use of white phosphorus in densely-populated residential areas in Gaza City and in the north."

Medics in Gaza reported treating dozens of people for burns caused by white phosphorus during Israel's 22-day offensive against the Hamas-ruled territory that killed more than 1,300 people before it ended on Sunday.

Israel has insisted that all weapons being used in its Gaza war were within the bounds of international law.

The substance is a toxic chemical agent which can cause severe burns. Dispersed in artillery fire, it burns on contact with oxygen and creates a smokescreen in order to hide troop movements.

For Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's researcher on Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories: "Its repeated use in this manner, despite evidence of its indiscriminate effects and its toll on civilians, is a war crime."

The group said that one of the places worst affected by the use of white phosphorus was the main UN compound in Gaza City, where Israeli forces fired three white phosphorus shells on 15 January.

The same ammunition was used in a strike on Al-Quds hospital in Gaza City the same day, Amnesty said.

Israel launched the air and ground offensive on December 27 to try to halt Palestinian rocket fire against the south of the Jewish state.