JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli army investigation into its use of white phosphorus munitions in Gaza is focusing on an incident in which 20 shells containing the substance were fired into a populated area, a newspaper said on Wednesday.
The Haaretz daily said the incident occurred in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya.
White phosphorus is a high-incendiary substance that burns very brightly and for long periods. It is often used to produce smoke screens, but can also be used as a weapon, producing extreme burns if it makes contact with skin.
Two Palestinian children were killed and 14 people suffered severe burns on January 17 when Israeli shells landed in a U.N.-run school in the Beit Lahiya area, medical officials said.
Haaretz said a brigade of paratroop reservists fired about 20 white phosphorus shells into the built-up area.
Amnesty International has accused Israel of war crimes over its use of the munitions in heavily populated areas.
According to the newspaper report, the Israeli military fired a total of 200 white phosphorus shells during the three-week Gaza offensive. Haaretz said 180 of the shells targeted militants launching cross-border rocket attacks from orchards and fields.
International law forbids white phosphorus use against military targets within concentrations of civilians, except when the targets are clearly separated from them and “all feasible precautions” are taken to avoid casualties among non-combatants.
An Israeli army spokesman declined to give further details but he confirmed that a high-ranking officer had been appointed to probe the military’s use of white phosphorus in Gaza.
The shells can also create smokescreens to hide military operations and to mark enemy targets.
Israel launched the offensive on December 27, saying it aimed to end years of cross-border rocket fire by Gaza militants.