Use in Populated Areas Poses Grave Risks to Civilians

(Beirut, October 12, 2023) – Israel’s use of white phosphorus in military operations in Gaza and Lebanon puts civilians at risk of serious and long-term injuries, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing a question and answer document on white phosphorus. Human Rights Watch verified videos taken in Lebanon and Gaza on October 10 and 11, 2023, respectively, showing multiple airbursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus over the Gaza City port and two rural locations along the Israel-Lebanon border, and interviewed two people who described an attack in Gaza.

White phosphorus, which can be used either for marking, signaling, and obscuring, or as a weapon to set fires that burn people and objects, has a significant incendiary effect that can severely burn people and set structures, fields, and other civilian objects in the vicinity on fire. The use of white phosphorus in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, magnifies the risk to civilians and violates the international humanitarian law prohibition on putting civilians at unnecessary risk.

“Any time that white phosphorus is used in crowded civilian areas, it poses a high risk of excruciating burns and lifelong suffering,” said Lama Fakih, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “White phosphorous is unlawfully indiscriminate when airburst in populated urban areas, where it can burn down houses and cause egregious harm to civilians.”

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