White Phosphorus And Its Effects: The Dark Side Of Warfare


Israel using white phosphorus in Gaza! things you need to know about this controversial weapon

Israel's use of white phosphorus in military operations in Gaza and Lebanon puts civilians at risk of serious and long-term injuries.

“It is beyond horrific that the Israeli army has indiscriminately used white phosphorous in violation of international humanitarian law.”
said Aya Majzoub, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“With concern growing about an intensification of the hostilities in southern Lebanon, the Israeli army must immediately halt the use of white phosphorus, especially in populated areas, in line with its forgotten 2013 pledge to stop using these weapons. It must abide by its commitment and stop further endangering the lives of civilians in Lebanon.”

The usage of white phosphorus is restricted under international humanitarian law. Although there can be lawful uses, it must never be fired at, or in close proximity to, a populated civilian area or civilian infrastructure, due to the high likelihood that the fires and smoke it causes spread. Such attacks, which fail to distinguish between civilians and civilian objects and fighters and military objectives, are indiscriminate and thus prohibited.

White phosphorus is an incendiary substance mostly used to create a dense smoke screen or mark targets. When exposed to air, it burns at extremely high temperatures and often starts fires in the areas in which it is deployed. People exposed to white phosphorus can suffer respiratory damage, organ failure and other horrific and life-changing injuries, including burns that are extremely difficult to treat and cannot be put out with water. Burns affecting only 10 percent of the body are often fatal.

White Phosphorus,
A highly reactive substance, has found historical application in military and industrial spheres. Often used as an incendiary weapon in warfare, its effects extend beyond combat zones, leading to global concerns.

Military Deployment and Ethical Concerns:

The utilization of white phosphorus in warfare as an incendiary weapon has raised ethical debates, primarily due to its severe impact on civilians, causing devastating burns and long-term health implications. The substance's use in conflicts remains a subject of international scrutiny and concern due to its effects on both combatants and non-combatants.

Health Impacts and Environmental Concerns:

Exposure to white phosphorus can lead to severe health hazards, causing extensive tissue damage and life-threatening burns. Long-term effects on individuals exposed to this substance pose ongoing health challenges. Furthermore, its use carries environmental repercussions, affecting ecosystems and creating lasting damage to the environment.

Legal and International Considerations:

Regulated under international conventions, the use of white phosphorus in warfare is restricted due to its devastating effects on civilians and the environment. Various treaties and international laws aim to control and limit the use of such substances in conflicts.

Alternatives and Control Measures:

Efforts are ongoing to explore alternative strategies and technologies that do not involve the use of white phosphorus in warfare. Emphasizing control measures and adherence to international laws remains crucial in addressing the ethical and health concerns associated with its use.

White phosphorus stands as a contentious substance, its implications extending far beyond its immediate military application. Understanding its profound health impacts, environmental consequences, and international legal considerations is crucial in addressing the complex challenges posed by its use.

Under international humanitarian law, all parties to a conflict must, at all times, distinguish between civilians and civilian objects, and fighters and military objectives and direct their attacks only at fighters and military objectives. Indiscriminate attacks – those that fail to differentiate between civilians and military objectives as required – are prohibited. Launching an indiscriminate attack resulting in loss of life or injuries to civilians or damage to civilian objects is a war crime.

White phosphorus should therefore never be used in areas populated by civilians, due to the high likelihood that the fires and smoke will spread, which would render such attacks indiscriminate. This attack on Dhayra, which injured civilians and damaged civilian objects, was indiscriminate and therefore unlawful. It must be investigated as a war crime.

International law

White phosphorus is not considered a chemical weapon because it operates primarily by heat and flame rather than toxicity, making it an incendiary weapon. Its use is governed by Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). Lebanon acceded to the protocol in 2017, but Israel has not.

Protocol III prohibits the use of airdropped incendiary weapons in “concentrations of civilians,” and limits the lawful use of ground-launched incendiary weapons – such as the artillery documented here – where there are concentrations of civilians. The protocol defines incendiary weapons as ones “primarily designed” to set fires and burn people, excluding uses of incendiary weapons for other purposes, including as smokescreens.

- Source/Credits : Amnesty International

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