JERUSALEM — The Israeli army used phosphorous artillery shells against Hezbollah guerrilla targets during their war in Lebanon this summer, an Israeli Cabinet minister said Sunday, confirming Lebanese allegations for the first time.
Until now, Israel had said it only used the weapons — which cause severe chemical burns — to mark targets or territory, according to Israeli media reports. The Geneva Conventions ban using white phosphorous against civilians or civilian areas and Israel said the weapons were used solely against military targets.
Cabinet Minister Yaakov Edri said Israel used the weapons before an Aug. 14 cease-fire went into effect, ending its 34-day war against Hezbollah. Edri’s spokeswoman Orly Yehezkel said he was speaking on behalf of Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
“The Israeli army holds phosphorous munitions in different forms,” Edri said. “The Israeli army made use of phosphorous shells during the war against Hezbollah in attacks against military targets in open ground.”
The Lebanese government accused Israel of dropping phosphorous bombs during the war. Edri did not specify where or against what types of targets the shells were used.
Intense heat and smoke
White phosphorous is a translucent wax-like substance with a pungent smell that, once ignited, creates intense heat and smoke.
The United States acknowledged last year that U.S. troops used white phosphorous as a weapon against insurgent strongholds during the battle of Fallujah in November 2004, but said it had never been used against civilian targets.
Israel is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions. The Israeli military said in July its use of weapons “conforms with international law” and it investigates claims of violations based on the information provided.
Overall, more than 1,200 civilians were killed on both sides during the conflict, which started with Hezbollah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in July.
Both Israel and Hezbollah have been accused by the United Nations and human rights groups of violating humanitarian law during the conflict.
Israel has been accused of firing as many as 4 million cluster bombs into Lebanon during the war, especially in the last hours before the cease-fire. U.N. demining experts say up to 1 million cluster bombs failed to explode immediately and continue to threaten civilians.
On Sunday, a cluster bomb exploded in a southern Lebanese village, killing a 12-year-old boy and wounding his younger brother, security officials said. At least 21 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded by cluster bombs since the end of the war, the U.N. Mine Action Center said.
Hezbollah, meanwhile, has been criticized for failing to distinguish between Israeli civilian and military targets. Human Rights Watch also said the militant group fired cluster bombs into civilian areas of northern Israel during the fighting.
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