IN NEWS: Is Israel using white phosphorus in Gaza?

  • Global human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of using white phosphorus munitions in Gaza and Lebanon, in violation of International Humanitarian Law.

About white phosphorus

  • White phosphorus is a pyrophore that ignites when exposed to oxygen, producing thick, light smoke as well as intense 815-degree Celsius heat.
  • White phosphorus falls under “pyrophoric solids, category 1”, which includes chemicals that catch fire “spontaneously” when exposed to air.
  • White phosphorus emits a distinct garlic-like odor.
  • It is dispersed in artillery shells, bombs, and rockets.
  • Its primary military use is as a smokescreen, used to hide troop movement on the ground.
  • White phosphorus is also known to mess with infrared optics and weapons tracking systems.
  • White phosphorus can cause severe burns, often down to the bone. The burns are excruciatingly painful, difficult to heal, and susceptible to infections.
  • It can cause respiratory damage and harm to internal organs.
  • White phosphorus munitions are not subject to a blanket ban, though their use is regulated under the IHL.
  • It is not considered a chemical weapon because its operational utility is primarily due to heat and smoke, rather than toxicity.

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