The White House found the report “concerning,” while Amnesty International has called the incident a potential war crime
Israel used controversial US-provided white phosphorus munitions to attack Dheira, a small village in southern Lebanon, the Washington Post reported on Monday, citing its own analysis of shell fragments recovered from the scene.
The incident reportedly occurred on October 16, when the Israeli military targeted the village with artillery fire. A reporter working for the newspaper discovered fragments of three 155-mm artillery shells fired into Deira. The attack left at least four homes burned down and injured at least nine civilians.
The shells turned out to be so-called ‘smoke’ or ‘marker’ M825 rounds, packed with felt wedges saturated with white phosphorus. The chemical ignites on its own when in contact with air and produces thick white smoke, which is useful for obscuring troop movement. The smoke, however, is also toxic, and while white phosphorus itself burns very hot – and is hard to extinguish – the ‘smoke’ shells effectively double as incendiary rounds if used without the necessary precautions.
The recovered fragments of shells contained production codes that “match the nomenclature used by the US military to categorize domestically produced munitions,” the WaPo stated, citing arms experts. The shells were manufactured by ammunition depots in Louisiana and Arkansas in 1989 and 1992, according to their markings, and their light green body color, and the ‘WP’ inscriptions were consistent with US standard-issue white phosphorus rounds. The US origin of the shells was also verified by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the report noted, with the latter group suggesting the incident should be investigated as a war crime.
“The fact that US-produced white phosphorus is being used by Israel in south Lebanon should be of great concern to US officials. [Congress] should take reports of Israel’s use of white phosphorus seriously enough to reassess US military aid to Israel,” Tirana Hassan, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, told the newspaper in a written statement.
The White House has reacted to the matter, with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby expressing “concerns” while stating that white phosphorus is a legitimate military use for illumination and producing smoke.
“We’ve seen the reports, certainly, we’re concerned about that. We’ll be asking questions to try to learn a little bit more,” Kirby told reporters while en route to Philadelphia. “Anytime that we provide items of white phosphorus to another military, it is with the full expectation that it’ll be used in keeping with those legitimate purposes and in keeping with the law of armed conflict,” he added.
At least one of the shells recovered apparently originated from the same batch, as most of the white phosphorus shells used by Israel in its Gaza campaign back in 2009. Since then, Israel has pledged to shift to other, less destructive types of smoke rounds, yet has apparently been widely using them amid the new conflict. Over the past two months, Israel has used the shells more than 60 times in Lebanon’s border area alone, the WaPo noted, citing data by ACLED, a war monitor group.
Apart from that, unverified footage circulating online suggests the white phosphorus munitions have been actively used in Gaza as well, with multiple videos appearing to match the distinctive airburst pattern of such rounds.