IDF to Stop Using Shells With White Phosphorus in Populated Areas, State Tells High Court

Human rights groups say the announcement does not obviate their demand for a prohibition against the munition, which they say killed dozens of Palestinians during Operation Cast Lead.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Israel Defense Forces is to stop using artillery shells containing white phosphorus in built-up areas, the state told the High Court of Justice on Monday. The court is hearing a petition by cultural figures and human rights organizations against the army's use of the munitions.

The IDF has decided "to avoid the use in built-up areas of artillery shells containing white phosphorus, with two narrow exceptions," the state said in an announcement to the court.

Yuval Roitman, who represented the state in the petition, added: This “has been decided in the IDF as a matter of policy … even though this is not a commitment in a legal sense.” The state’s decision emphasizes that while this is current IDF policy it could change in the future.

The petitioners argued that the state's announcement is insufficient to render their petition unnecessary.

Justice Hanan Melcer said the exceptions mentioned, which were submitted to the court but not entered into the transcripts, “really are narrow.”

The petition, submitted in 2011 by attorneys Michael Sfard and Emily Schaeffer, demanded a prohibition on the use of artillery shells containing white phosphorous in urban environments. It noted that the IDF used such munitions in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead, in late 2008 and early 2009. One of the complaints against Israel during this military operation concerned the use of these shells, which human rights organizations say constituted a war crime that causes scores of deaths and casualties.

An IDF investigation, the conclusions of which were issued in March 2009, found that such shells were employed to create a smokescreen to screen troop movements and that their use did not violate international law.

In its reply to the court in 2011 over the petition, the state said Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh had ordered a “significant narrowing” of the use of these shells.

According to U.S. user manuals for the type of phosphorus shells used by the IDF, when fired it releases 116 felt wedges soaked in white phosphorus. Each shell contains about six kilograms of white phosphorous.

A white phosphorus shell exploding over Gaza City in 2008.Credit: Eliyaha Ben Igal

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