Israel used U.S.-supplied white phosphorus in Lebanon attack (2024)

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Updated December 11, 2023 at 3:48 p.m. EST|Published December 11, 2023 at 6:00 a.m. EST

Israel used U.S.-supplied white phosphorus in Lebanon attack (1)

DHEIRA, Lebanon — Israel used U.S.-supplied white phosphorus munitions in an October attack in southern Lebanon that injured at least nine civilians in what a rights group says should be investigated as a war crime, according to a Washington Post analysis of shell fragments found in a small village.

A journalist working for The Post found remnants of three 155mm artillery rounds fired into Dheira, near the border of Israel, which incinerated at least four homes, residents said. The rounds eject felt wedges saturated with white phosphorus, which burns at high temperatures, producing billowing smoke that obscures troop movements as the substance falls haphazardly over a wide area. It can stick to skin, causing potentially fatal burns and respiratory damage, and its use near civilian areas is generally prohibited under international humanitarian law.

Of the nine injured in Israel’s attack on Dheira, at least three were hospitalized, one for days.

Lot production codes found on the shells match the nomenclature used by the U.S. military to categorize domestically produced munitions, which show they were made by ammunition depots in Louisiana and Arkansas in 1989 and 1992. The light-green color and other markings — like “WP” printed on one of the remnants — are consistent with white phosphorus rounds, according to arms experts.

The M825 smoke rounds, fired from 155mm howitzers, have legitimate use on the battlefield, including signaling friendly troops, marking targets and producing white smoke that conceals soldiers from the eyes of enemy forces. The rounds are not intended for use as incendiary weapons.

The weapons are part of billions of dollars in U.S. munitions that flow to Israel every year and have fueled Israel’s war on Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, launched after the group attacked inside Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people. At least 17,700 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have been killed since the Israeli operation began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Following publication of this story, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the administration is “concerned” about the use of white phosphorus munitions and that it would be “asking questions to try to learn a bit more.”

Biden’s arming of Israel faces backlash as Gaza’s civilian toll grows

Tensions along Lebanon’s southern border between Israeli forces and Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia, have boiled over from a simmer to near-daily exchanges of fire in the weeks since Oct. 7.

Dheira, a town of 2,000, has become a focal point for fighting. Just across the border from an Israeli radar tower, it has been used as a staging ground for Hezbollah’s attacks against Israel. At least 94 people have been killed on the Lebanese side of the border since tensions escalated, according to data released on Dec. 5 by the country’s Health Ministry — 82 have been militants, according to Hezbollah. In addition, at least 11 Israelis have been killed, most of them soldiers.

Photos and videos verified by Amnesty International and reviewed by The Post show the characteristic ribbons of white phosphorus smoke falling over Dheira on Oct. 16.

Israeli forces continued to shell the town with white phosphorus munitions for hours, residents said, trapping them in their homes until they were able to escape about 7 the next morning. Residents now refer to the attack as the “black night.”

Most fled the town when the shelling stopped, returning during a week-long pause in fighting and leaving again when it resumed.

Uday Abu Sari, a 29-year-old farmer, said in an interview that he was trapped in his home for five hours during the shelling and was unable to breathe because of the smoke. He suffered respiratory problems for days after the attack.

“Emergency services told us to put something that was soaked in water on our faces, which helped a bit. I couldn’t see my finger in front of my face,” he said. “The whole village became white.”

White phosphorus ignites when in contact with oxygen and burns at temperatures up to 1,500 degrees, which can cause severe injuries. The chemicals left in the body can damage internal organs, sometimes causing death, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

It is unclear why the Israeli military fired the rounds into the evening, as smoke would have little practical use at night and there were no Israeli troops on the Lebanese side of the border to mask with smokescreens. Residents speculated that the phosphorus was meant to displace them from the village and to clear the way for future Israeli military activity in the area.

In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces wrote that white phosphorus shells launched by Israel are used to create smokescreens, not for targeting or causing fires. It said its use of the weapon “complies and goes beyond the requirements of international law.”

Israeli forces possess safer alternatives, such as M150 artillery rounds, which produce screening smoke without the use of white phosphorus.

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The U.S. origin of the shells was verified by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The same manufacturing codes also appear on white phosphorus shells lined up next to Israeli artillery by the city of Sderot, near the Gaza Strip, in an Oct. 9 photo.

The United States is under an obligation to track the behavior of its partners and allies who receive its assistance in order to comply with U.S. law, said experts in humanitarian law. The use of white phosphorus smoke is permitted if used for legitimate military operations, but as with other weapons, its misuse can violate laws of armed conflict. Rights groups have warned that its use should be restricted around civilians because fire and smoke can be spread to populated areas.

“The fact that U.S.-produced white phosphorus is being used by Israel in south Lebanon should be of great concern to U.S. officials,” Tirana Hassan, executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote in an email. “[Congress] should take reports of Israel’s use of white phosphorus seriously enough to reassess U.S. military aid to Israel.”

The United States is not conducting real-time assessments of Israel’s adherence to the laws of war, Biden administration officials said.

“Any time that we provide items like white phosphorus to another military, it is with a full expectation that it’ll be used in keeping with … legitimate purposes and in keeping with the law of armed conflict,” Kirby said.

It is unclear when the United States delivered the munitions to Israel. It has not provided white phosphorus munitions to Israel since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, a Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, told reporters Monday.

“When it comes to our relationship with Israel, we’ll continue to communicate to them the importance of mitigating civilian harm,” Ryder said, adding that the department could not yet verify that the weapons were from U.S. stocks.

White phosphorus fell onto several homes and ignited fires, incinerating furniture and stripping appliances to scorched metal. Remnants of the sticky, black chemical littered the ground 40 days after the attack and combusted when residents kicked at it.

In 2009, Human Rights Watch documented Israel’s use of U.S.-made white phosphorus munitions in violation of international law in its 22-day offensive in Gaza. At least one of the shells found by The Post in Dheira was from the same batch of white phosphorus used by Israel in 2009, according to lot production codes.

In 2013, the Israeli military pledged to stop using white phosphorus on the battlefield, saying it would transition to gas-based smoke shells.

Israel has used the munition more than 60 times in Lebanon’s border areas in the past two months, according to data collected by ACLED, a group that monitors war zones. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Dec. 2 that Israel’s use of the munition has “killed civilians and produced irreversible damage to more than 5 million square meters of forests and farmland, in addition to damaging thousands of olive trees.”

Tyler Pager aboard Air Force One, Missy Ryan in Washington and Mohamad El Chamaa in Beirut contributed to this report.

Israel-Gaza war

The Israel Defense Forces said it is fighting “fierce and difficult battles” across Gaza, including in three Hamas strongholds. The IDF announced the Kerem Shalom crossing would be opened to screen aid entering Gaza, increasing the volume of assistance amid warnings from humanitarian organizations that Gaza’s health system is near collapse.

Hostages: More than 100 hostages held in the Gaza Strip have been released. Here’s what we know about the hostages released by Hamas so far.

Oct. 7 attack: Hamas spent more than a year planning its historic assault on Israel. A Washington Post video analysis shows how Hamas exploited vulnerabilities created by Israel’s reliance on technology at the “Iron Wall,” the security barrier around the Gaza Strip, to carry out the deadliest attack in Israel’s history. Traders earned millions anticipating the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, a study found.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has a complicated history. Understand what’s behind the Israel-Gaza war and see the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As an AI language model, I don't have personal experiences or opinions, but I can provide you with information on the concepts mentioned in the article you provided. The concepts mentioned in the article include:

  1. White phosphorus munitions: White phosphorus munitions are weapons that contain white phosphorus, a highly flammable substance. These munitions are used for various purposes on the battlefield, such as signaling friendly troops, marking targets, and producing smoke screens. However, the use of white phosphorus near civilian areas is generally prohibited under international humanitarian law due to its potential to cause severe burns and respiratory damage.

  2. War crimes: The article suggests that the use of white phosphorus munitions by Israel in southern Lebanon could potentially be investigated as a war crime. War crimes are serious violations of the laws and customs of war, such as targeting civilians or using prohibited weapons. The use of white phosphorus near civilian areas may be considered a war crime if it results in harm to civilians.

  3. International humanitarian law: International humanitarian law, also known as the laws of war or the law of armed conflict, is a set of rules and principles that govern the conduct of armed conflicts. It aims to protect civilians and combatants who are no longer taking part in the hostilities, and to limit the means and methods of warfare. The use of certain weapons, such as white phosphorus near civilian areas, may be prohibited under international humanitarian law.

  4. U.S. military assistance to Israel: The article mentions that Israel receives billions of dollars in U.S. munitions every year, which have been used in its conflict with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. The United States has a legal obligation to track the behavior of its partners and allies who receive its assistance to ensure compliance with U.S. law and international norms.

  5. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are international non-governmental organizations that monitor and report on human rights abuses around the world. In the article, these organizations verified the U.S. origin of the white phosphorus shells used by Israel in Lebanon and documented previous instances of Israel's use of white phosphorus munitions.

Please note that the information provided is based on the concepts mentioned in the article you provided and the search results from You.com.

Israel used U.S.-supplied white phosphorus in Lebanon attack (2024)

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