So far, so bad. Especially if you look at the web-page, tut-tut over how barbaric those Israelis are and go on to the sports section. If you read the article, however, the picture becomes murkier.
Israel is believed to be using controversial white phosphorus shells to screen its assault on the heavily populated Gaza Strip yesterday. The weapon, used by British and US forces in Iraq, can cause horrific burns but is not illegal if used as a smokescreen.Ah. So while Israel may be barbaric, it's not more so than the British and Americans. Meanwhile,
The Israeli military last night denied using phosphorus, but refused to say what had been deployed. “Israel uses munitions that are allowed for under international law,” said Captain Ishai David, spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces.Personally, I'm not convinced, one way or the other. I'm not enough of an expert on these things to know if there is more than one type of ordinance with the same effect. I hope our military spokesman isn't lying, especially as there doesn't seem to be any reason to: if those international legislators forbade the use of phosphorous as a weapon of war but not as a smokescreen or for illumination, there must be a reason. But what it might be?
The Geneva Treaty of 1980 stipulates that white phosphorus should not be used as a weapon of war in civilian areas, but there is no blanket ban under international law on its use as a smokescreen or for illumination.A statement, not an explanation. So far as I know, the reason it is permitted to use phosphorous as an aerial smokescreen, is that it burns up before it reaches the ground if it exploded high enough. The Times doesn't explain, but does helpfully tells us how criminal Israel's behavior would be if it were doing what it isn't doing:
Charles Heyman, a military expert and former major in the British Army, said: “If white phosphorus was deliberately fired at a crowd of people someone would end up in The Hague. White phosphorus is also a terror weapon. The descending blobs of phosphorus will burn when in contact with skin.”