- Created: Friday, 10 April 2009 13:18
- Written by Fiona Donovan
FRFI 207 February / March 2009
From early on during the onslaught on Gaza it became evident that the Israelis were using munitions whose purpose was to create the maximum harm to civilians. Two such were DIME munitions and white phosphorus.
DIME – Dense Inert Metal Explosive
DIME bombs produce a powerful and lethal blast within a radius of 5-10 metres, spraying a superheated powder of Heavy Metal Tungsten Alloy (HMTA). Scientific studies have found that HMTA is chemically toxic, damages the immune system and rapidly causes cancer. DIME was developed for use in urban conflicts at the US Air Force Research Laboratory. The people of Gaza suffered injuries consistent with the use of DIME in July 2006 from munitions launched by Israeli drones.
Doctors in Gaza both in 2006 and during the recent Israeli bombardment recorded victims who have had their legs amputated leaving ‘signs of heat and burns near the point of the amputation...as if a saw was used to cut through the bone’. Wounded legs and arms have been burned from the inside to the point that they cannot return to life again. Internal organs and soft tissue are damaged but no fragments are detected by X-ray. Those wounded usually die. On 19 January 2009 Norwegian surgeon Erik Fosse, working at the Al Shifa hospital in northern Gaza, noted: ‘...most of the patients I saw were children. If they are trying to be accurate, it seems obvious these weapons were aimed at children’.
Protocol I of the Geneva Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons prohibits the use of ‘any weapon the primary effect of which is to injure by fragments which in the human body escape detection by X-rays’.
White phosphorus (WP) is an element which is highly reactive with oxygen. WP munitions are usually artillery shells containing 116 white phosphorus wedges which are spread over several hundred square metres as the shell explodes. The wedges ignite on contact with the air and are seen as a shower of burning white streaks. When WP touches human skin it burns to the bone, causing terrible injuries and forcing doctors to excise large areas of flesh. WP also sparks fires that are difficult to extinguish.
Doctors in Gaza have been struggling to treat patients with unusually deadly burns. Patients with 15% burns, which they ought to survive, have been dying. Surgeon Nafiz Abu Shabaan, head of the burns unit at Al Shifa hospital, described opening the head wound of a three-year-old girl and seeing smoke coming out. A substance was removed from the wound and it continued to burn until it disappeared. The child died.
The use of WP is strictly limited under UN conventions and international humanitarian law only to
create smoke, set fire to military targets, or to mark military targets. It is prohibited to use WP against or near civilians.
The Israeli army used huge quantities of WP munitions during the 1982 assault on Beirut, during a 1993 invasion of South Lebanon and more recently during the 2006 war against Lebanon. Every time it uses such weapons, it issues routine denials which are later found to be utter lies. The same happened during the invasion of Gaza.