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United Nations organizations said yesterday that it will investigate complaints that Israel used depleted uranium projectiles in the course of the fighting in Gaza, causing health and environmental damage.

The inquiry will be conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Environment Protection Organization, at the request of the Arab states' UN envoys.

Israel yesterday denied using uranium-depleted munitions during the Gaza Strip offensive and said that this could be proven by any UN investigation. The Foreign Ministry's foreign press spokesman called these accusations blatant, groundless propaganda.

"We will investigate the matter to the extent of our ability," an IAEA spokeswoman told Haaretz. She said the IAEA has "conducted similar missions before at the request of member states" but "no decision on action in this case has yet been taken."

The inquiry request was made on behalf of the Arab states by Saudi Arabia's ambassador Mansour Bin Khalid Al-Saud. "I would like to express our deep concern over the information...from reports by various medical and media sources on the possibility that depleted uranium has been utilized in missiles deployed by Israel in its military aggression against civilians in Gaza," he wrote to IAEA.

Israel has been accused in the past of making use of uranium-depleted artillery and tank shells during the Second Lebanon War. PLO and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat accused Israel of doing the same following Israel's operations in Gaza in the course of the intifada.

Depleted uranium is enriched uranium waste and because of its density is used as radiation protection for medical and industrial equipment. The military uses it for shells and other munitions, increasing their penetration against armored targets. Depleted-uranium munitions were used in the first Gulf War against Iraq and by NATO against Serbia in the Balkan war.

After the 1991 Gulf War American combat veterans reported a mysterious illness dubbed the Gulf War syndrome. According to speculation, the illness was caused by the soldiers' exposure to uranium-depleted munitions.

A UN report published in July 2008 found that contact with uranium-depleted munitions or close proximity to them could expose people to radiation and contamination. The chemical and radiological risks of exposure to depleted uranium are similar to those of natural uranium. Exposing people to uranium is hazardous, although depleted uranium has "weak radioactivity," the report concludes.