Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Doctors Show Proof of White Phosphorus in Gaza

"Doctors Show Horrific Proof of White Phosphorus Abuse in Gaza

Joseph Mayton

[Doctors show munitions containing white phosphorus in al-Shifa hospital in Gaza after an Israeli strike in Gaza City on Jan. 16. The Geneva Convention of 1980 prohibits the use of white phosphorus as a weapon of war in civilian areas. Wounds of the dead and injured at hospitals in Gaza and Cairo offer further proof that the incendiary weapon was used illegally by Israeli troops. (PTS Photoshot via Newscom)] With Israel's latest war on Gaza over, international rights groups and medical professionals have begun a campaign to reveal the human cost of the three-week war. In Cairo a group of Egyptian doctors, who had traveled to Gaza during the war, showed pictures of the devastating carnage and lambasted Israel for the illegal use of incendiary white phosphorus on civilians.

One of the most gruesome photos presented at a public meeting at Egypt's Doctor's Syndicate Sunday was of a three-year-old girl who had been extensively and deeply burned, in some places revealing the bones. The dead girl's injuries were consistent with those attributed to the chemical weapon, doctors said.

Pointing to another picture, Ibrahim Elgeady, a doctor from Cairo University, said: "This is [the result of] white phosphorus. You can see how the entire body was burned as an illegal result of this weapon."

Although it is permissible in war to use WP as smoke-screening agent to mask the moves of advancing troops its incendiary properties make its use near civilians a war crime. White phosphorus, or WP - or as American soldiers often refer to the chemical weapon, 'Willy Peter' - has also been deployed in other battlefields. And troops have been frequently caught out using it as an anti-personnel weapon.

White phosphorus is fired into the air from airborne or land vehicles where it bursts into thousands of phosphorus crystals that form white-looking clouds. The crystals blow and fall gently down. But if they touch skin they burn into it, boring holes deep into the body without extinguishing. It will only stop burning when deprived of oxygen. An agonizing death is frequent.

Even if the victim survives, without immediate and specialized treatment - which is usually not available to the populations that come under attack by the weapon - their body absorbs the chemical into the liver, heart and kidneys.

"There is no question that this was used against civilians by Israel," the doctor continued.

The doctors were part of an Arab Doctor's Union that was allowed into Gaza through Egypt's Rafah Border Crossing with the Palestinian territory during the war to help the understaffed Gaza hospitals.

The group of six Egyptian doctors spoke of their experience during the war, showing the wounds through pictures they took during their time on the ground.

"It was obvious to everyone that it was white phosphorus in civilian areas," a pediatrician from al-Azhar Ahmed el-Sadat said at the round table meeting.

White phosphorus weapons were invented during the chemical weapons rush that followed World War I. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has continually pressed for the end of weapons that are more susceptible to larger civilian casualties.

In a statement against incendiary weapons, the ICRC said: "Particular care must be taken to avoid, and in any event to minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects."

The United States uses the weapon; most recently in the Iraq war, and before that in Vietnam. Israel used it in the 2006 Lebanon war and before that during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and Russia has been known to use it....