Rights group: Israel using white phosphorus on residential buildings in Lebanon

Human Rights Watch says no evidence of burn injuries but claims civilians have breathing troubles; Israel says substance used only as a smokescreen and not to target civilians

Illustrative A shell explodes over a house in al-Bustan, a Lebanese village along the border with Israel, on October 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
Illustrative A shell explodes over a house in al-Bustan, a Lebanese village along the border with Israel, on October 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

A global human rights group claimed that Israel has used white phosphorus incendiary shells on residential buildings in at least five towns and villages in conflict-hit southern Lebanon, possibly harming civilians and violating international law, in a report published Wednesday.

Human Rights Watch said in its report that there was no evidence of burn injuries due to white phosphorus in Lebanon, but that researchers had “heard accounts indicating possible respiratory damage.”

Human rights advocates say it’s a crime under international law to fire the controversial munitions into populated areas.

Israel maintains it uses the white phosphorus only as a smokescreen and not to target civilians.

The white-hot chemical substance can set buildings on fire and burn human flesh down to the bone. Survivors are at risk of infections and organ or respiratory failure, even if their burns are small.

The HRW report included interviews with eight residents in conflict-hit southern Lebanon, and the group said it had verified and geolocated images from almost 47 photos and videos that show white phosphorus shells landing on residential buildings in five Lebanese border towns and villages.

Smoke rises after rockets launched from southern Lebanon landed in the Golan Heights on May 16, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border attacks by the Hezbollah terror group (Photo by Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

The Lebanese Health Ministry says at least 173 people have required medical care after exposure to white phosphorus.

The researchers found that the controversial incendiaries were used in residential areas in Kfar Kila, Mays al-Jabal, Boustan, Markaba, and Aita al-Shaab, towns that are among the hardest hit in eight months of fighting.

The New York-based rights group alongside Amnesty International also accused Israel of using white phosphorus in residential areas in October 2023, less than a month after clashes began between the Israel Defense Forces and the powerful Hezbollah terror group along the southern Lebanon-Israel border.

In its report, HRW called on the Lebanese government to allow the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute “grave international crimes” within Lebanon since October 2023.

“Israel’s recent use of white phosphorus in Lebanon should motivate other countries to take immediate action toward this goal,” said HRW Lebanon researcher Ramzi Kaiss.

In response to a similar report by The Washington Post in December, the IDF stated that the army only uses white phosphorus in specific situations that entail it and only in ways that are legal under international law.

Smoke rises in the northern border city Kiryat Shmona after rockets were fired from southern Lebanon on May 5, 2024 (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there. That war started when the Hamas terror group led some 3,000 attackers in a shock onslaught on southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and abducting 251. Israel in response began a campaign to topple Hamas, which rules Gaza, and free the hostages.

The skirmishes on the border with Lebanon have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 14 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 330 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 62 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

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