IDN-InDepthNews Service - December 19, 2009
ISTANBUL (IDN) - "The 2006 and 2009 Israeli bombings on Gaza left a high concentration of toxic metals in soil, which can cause tumours, fertility problems, and serious effects on newborns, like deformities and genetic pathologies."
These are some of the key findings of a recent study by New Weapons Research Committee (NWRC), an Italy-based group of academics, physicians and researchers specialised in elaborating risk assessment surveys on the effects of the newest "non-conventional weapons and their mid-term effects on residents of areas afflicted by conflicts".
The metals found are mainly tungsten, mercury, molybdenum, cadmium and cobalt.
NWRC researchers investigated four craters: two of them formed during the Jul. 2006 bombings on Beit Hanoun and Jabalia Camp, and another two emerged as a consequence of the Jan. 2009 bombings on Gaza City suburb Tufah.
They analysed "the powder remaining inside a shell of the White Phosphorus bomb THS89D112-003 155MM M825E11 exploded near the Al Wafa hospital in Jan. 2009".
The scientists compared the levels of concentration of metals in the craters with those identified in a report on the presence of metals in the Gaza soil, based on samples collected from 170 locations in 2005.
"The analyses have shown anomalous concentrations of these metals inside the craters, indicating soil contamination," says NWRC. "This, given the precarious living conditions, especially in refugee camps, increases the risk of exposure to toxic substances, through the skin, through the lungs and through ingestion."
Paola Manduca, professor of genetics and researcher at the University of Genoa, Italy, explained: "Our study indicates an anomalous presence of toxic elements in the soil."
"It is essential to intervene at once to limit the effects of the contamination on people, animals and cultivations", she stressed.
"We need strategies to help contaminated people. We hope that the research performed so far by the Goldstone Commission will not only analyse the abuses of human rights, but also focus on the long-term effects that the various types of weapons have on the environment and on population. A rapid collection of data should be carried out."
ISRAEL EXPERIMENTING NEW NON-CONVENTIONAL ARMS
In a previous study released on Jan. 9, during the Israeli three-week war on Gaza, which killed over 1,400 people and injured more than 5,000, NWRC reported: "Mounting evidence is emerging that Israel is experimenting new non-conventional weapons on civilian population in Gaza."
"It is happening again what we saw in Lebanon two years ago," said Manduca. There, "Israel used white phosphorus, Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME), thermo-baric bombs, cluster bombs and uranium ammunitions, and experimented new weapons. Still today there are unexploded bombs and radioactivity on the ground," NWRC spokesperson reported.
Manduca added that the images of dead and wounded people, and testimonies by witnesses, "show significant resemblance with those gathered and verified during the July-August war in 2006 in Lebanon".
Mads Gilbert, Norwegian doctor and member of a non- governmental organization Norwac, who worked at the Gaza's largest hospital, Shifa, denounced also in January that "many (people) arrive with amputations, with both legs crushed", and "with wounds which I suspect are produced by Dime weapons".
"The images arriving from Gaza seem to confirm these suppositions as well. The burns suffered by some children in Gaza are very similar to those documented in 2006 by doctor Hibraim Faraj, a surgeon at the Hiram hospital in Tyre and by doctor Bachir Cham at the Hospital du Sur, Sidon," he said.
"At the moment," Manduca commented, "we have reports from doctors and informed witnesses that make us believe that new types of weapons are being tested today in Gaza, apart from those used in 2006. This makes it necessary for further technical and scientific researches to be undertaken."
In the last two years, NWRC, together with Lebanese and Palestinian doctors, produced scientific data using techniques of histology, scansion electron microscopy and chemical analysis on bioptic samples from victims of the 2006 Israeli attacks.
The specialists collected "clinical evidence and documentation that proves the use of thermo-baric bombs in open spaces, DIME and sub-lethal targeted weapons in 2006 in Lebanon, and DIME and sub-lethal targeted weapons in Gaza".
NWRC submitted in 2007 a related report to the UN Human Rights Council, and in 2008 to the International Citizens Tribunal on War Crimes in Lebanon and the Italian Parliament’s committee on depleted uranium.
NWRC has also worked with international scientists who documented the use of uranium ammunitions in Lebanon.
RAIN OF FIRE, WAR CRIMES -- HUMAN RIGHT WATCH
Only weeks after, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported from Jerusalem on "Israel's repeated firing of white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza during its recent military campaign was indiscriminate and is evidence of war crimes".
In fact, HRW released on March 25 its 71-page report "Rain of Fire: Israel's Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza", which provides witness accounts of the devastating effects that white phosphorus munitions had on civilians and civilian property in Gaza.
"Human Rights Watch researchers in Gaza immediately after hostilities ended found spent shells, canister liners, and dozens of burnt felt wedges containing white phosphorus on city streets, apartment roofs, residential courtyards, and at a United Nations school," it informs.
The report also presents "ballistics evidence, photographs, and satellite imagery, as well as documents from the Israeli military and government".
Militaries use white phosphorus primarily to obscure their operations on the ground by creating thick smoke. It can also be used as an incendiary weapon, according to HRW.
"In Gaza, the Israeli military didn't just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops," said Fred Abrahams, senior emergencies researcher at HRW and co-author of the report.
WHITE POSPHORUS ON DENSELY POPULATED AREAS
"It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren't in the area and safer smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died."
The report documents a pattern or policy of white phosphorus use that Human Rights Watch says must have required the approval of senior military officers.
"On February 1, HRW submitted detailed questions to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) about its white phosphorus use in Gaza. The IDF did not provide responses, citing an internal inquiry being conducted by the Southern Command."
In the recent Gaza operations, it adds, "Israeli forces frequently air-burst white phosphorus in 155mm artillery shells in and near populated areas".
"Each air-burst shell spreads 116 burning white phosphorus wedges in a radius extending up to 125 meters from the blast point."
White phosphorus ignites and burns on contact with oxygen, and continues burning at up to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit (816 degrees Celsius) until nothing is left or the oxygen supply is cut. When white phosphorus comes into contact with skin it creates intense and persistent burns, according to HRW.
ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTRY KNEW
The Human Rights Watch report concludes "the IDF repeatedly exploded it unlawfully over populated neighbourhoods, killing and wounding civilians and damaging civilian structures, including a school, a market, a humanitarian aid warehouse, and a hospital".
"Israel at first denied it was using white phosphorus in Gaza but, facing mounting evidence to the contrary, said that it was using all weapons in compliance with international law. Later it announced an internal investigation into possible improper white phosphorus use."
HRW stressed "The IDF knew that white phosphorus poses life-threatening dangers to civilians".
A medical report prepared during the recent hostilities by the Israeli ministry of health said that white phosphorus "can cause serious injury and death when it comes into contact with the skin, is inhaled or is swallowed", it reports.
"Burns on less than 10 percent of the body can be fatal because of damage to the liver, kidneys, and heart, the ministry report says. Infection is common and the body's absorption of the chemical can cause serious damage to internal organs, as well as death."
All of the white phosphorus shells that Human Rights Watch found were manufactured in the United States in 1989 by Thiokol Aerospace, which was running the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant at the time.
"On January 4, Reuters photographed IDF artillery units handling projectiles whose markings indicate that they were produced in the United States at the Pine Bluff Arsenal in September 1991," the reports informs.
DELIBERATELY OR RECKLESSLY, BUT USED
To explain the high number of civilian casualties in Gaza, Israeli officials have repeatedly blamed Hamas for using civilians as "human shields" and for fighting from civilian sites.
In the cases documented in the report, Human Rights Watch found no evidence of Hamas using human shields in the vicinity at the time of the attacks. In some areas Palestinian fighters appear to have been present, but this does not justify the indiscriminate use of white phosphorus in a populated area.
HRW said that for multiple reasons it concluded that the IDF had deliberately or recklessly used white phosphorus munitions in violation of the laws of war.
"First, the repeated use of air-burst white phosphorus in populated areas until the last days of the operation reveals a pattern or policy of conduct rather than incidental or accidental usage. Second, the IDF was well aware of the effects of white phosphorus and the dangers it poses to civilians. Third, the IDF failed to use safer available alternatives for smokescreens."
The laws of war obligate states to investigate impartially allegations of war crimes. The evidence available demands that Israel investigate and prosecute as appropriate those who ordered or carried out unlawful attacks using white phosphorus munitions, Human Rights Watch said.
The United States government, which supplied Israel with its white phosphorus munitions, should also conduct an investigation to determine whether Israel used it in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch concluded. (IDN-InDepthNews/19.12.2009)
* Fareed Mahdy is special correspondent of IDN-InDepthNews Service
Copyright © 2009 IDN-InDepthNews Service
IDN articles on Human Rights:
IDN articles on the Middle East: