The Times has identified stockpiles of white phosphorus (WP) shells from high-resolution images taken of Israel Defence Forces (IDF) artillery units on the Israeli-Gaza border this week. The pale blue 155mm rounds are clearly marked with the designation M825A1, an American-made WP munition. The shell is an improved version with a more limited dispersion of the phosphorus, which ignites on contact with oxygen, and is being used by the Israeli gunners to create a smoke screen on the ground.
The rounds, which explode into a shower of burning white streaks, were first identified by The Times at the weekend when they were fired over Gaza at the start of Israel's ground offensive. Artillery experts said that the Israeli troops would be in trouble if they were banned from using WP because it is the simplest way of creating smoke to protect them from enemy fire.
Confronted with the latest evidence, an IDF spokeswoman insisted that the M825A1 shell was not a WP type. “This is what we call a quiet shell - it is empty, it has no explosives and no white phosphorus. There is nothing inside it,” she said.
“We shoot it to mark the target before we launch a real shell. We launch two or three of the quiet shells which are empty so that the real shells will be accurate. It's not for killing people,” she said.
Asked what shell was being used to create the smokescreen effect seen so clearly on television images, she said: “We're using what other armies use and we're not using any weapons that are banned under international law.”
Neil Gibson, technical adviser to Jane's Missiles and Rockets, insisted that the M825A1 was a WP round. “The M825A1 is an improved model. The WP does not fill the shell but is impregnated into 116 felt wedges which, once dispersed [by a high-explosive charge], start to burn within four to five seconds. They then burn for five to ten minutes. The smoke screen produced is extremely effective,” he said.
Thursday, 8 January 2009
The Times is doing a great job of revealing Israel's use of white phosphorous in Gaza, reporting today that hospitals are seeing civilians with unusual and severe burns: