Israel abandons controversial phosphorus smokescreen

A piece of alleged white phosphorus still burns at the UN Relief and Works Agency primary school in the northern Gaza Strip in 2009. (AFP)

A piece of alleged white phosphorus still burns at the UN Relief and Works Agency primary school in the northern Gaza Strip in 2009. (AFP)

Announcing the plan, the Israeli military did not say whether it would also review its use of weaponised white phosphorus, which is designed to incinerate enemy positions.

While legal when fired to mask troop movements on battlefields, white phosphorus smokescreens produce embers and ash that can burn – a risk in urban areas.

The New York-based watchdog group Human Rights Watch said in a 2009 report that Palestinian civilians "needlessly suffered and died" due to Israel's use of the munitions in Gaza.

"Israel's repeated firing of white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza during its recent military campaign was indiscriminate and is evidence of war crimes," the group said.

Israel said its military's conduct in Gaza was lawful, though two senior army officers were eventually reprimanded for a strike near a UN compound that involved smokescreen shells.

Such shells "are to be removed from active duty soon" and replaced by Israeli-developed alternatives to white phosphorus "based completely on gas" around a year from now, the military statement said on Friday, without giving details.

During the Gaza fighting, Israel said troops also fired mortar rounds with white phosphorus warheads to clear brush around trenches used by Palestinian gunmen. – Reuters

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