Thursday, January 22, 2009


Who in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) decided to use white phosphorous in shelling the crowded streets of Gaza? White phosphorous is attached to pieces of felt that burn without end, at least if they fall on flesh. The only way to stop the burning is through digging them out in surgery.

Ethan Bronner reports for The New York Times today from Gaza:

"In early January, a week into Israel’s war in Gaza, the home of Sabah Abu Halima was hit by an Israeli shell. Ms. Abu Halima, the matriarch of a farming family in the northern Gaza area of Beit Lahiya, was caught in an inferno that burned her husband and four of their nine children to death.

"But as she lay in a bed on the third floor of an annex to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Wednesday, bandaged all over and in terrible pain, it was less the magnitude of her loss than the source of the fire that was drawing attention, not only from her doctors but also from human rights organizations and even the Israeli military.

Though there has been no independent confirmation, Palestinian officials say her family was hit by white phosphorus, a weapon that militaries use widely to obscure the battlefield but that is also limited under an international convention that bans targeting civilians with it."

The IDF promised an investigation, but that is too little, too late for the Abu Halima family and their children.

Writes Bronner:

"In Gaza, Ms. Abu Halima said that when her family was hit, “fire came from the bodies of my husband and my children.”

“"The children were screaming, ‘Fire! Fire!’ and there was smoke everywhere and a horrible, suffocating smell,” she said. “My 14-year-old cried out, ‘I’m going to die. I want to pray.’ I saw my daughter-in-law melt away.”

"Dr. Nafez Abu Shaban, head of Shifa’s burn unit, said the family’s burns, which he and an assisting doctor from Egypt had treated, were of a kind he had never encountered, reaching to the muscle and bone.

"“They were deeper and wider than anything I had seen; a bad odor came from the wounds and smoke continued to come out of them for many hours,” he said in his office around the corner from Ms. Abu Halima’s sickbed.

"He added, “We took out a piece of foreign matter that a colleague identified as white phosphorous.”"

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