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    23 January 2009

    UN releases Gaza attack photos

    Pictures show alleged Israeli use of white phosphorus munitions on a UN compound.

    The United Nations has released images of what it believes are white phosphorus munitions raining down on one of its compounds during Israel's war on Gaza.

    The pictures, broadcast by Al Jazeera on Thursday, show what appears to be flame-generating munitons, thought to be white phosphorus "wedges", falling into a UN compound in Gaza where hundreds of people were sheltering.

    Two Palestinian boys, aged five and seven, were killed in the attack on January 17.

    Israel has said it will investigate the issue, but has not publicly acknowledged using the controversial chemical.

    Al Jazeera has learnt that a total of 53 installations used by the United Nations Relief and Works agency, Unrwa, were damaged or destroyed during Israel's Gaza campaign including 37 schools - six of which are being used as emergency shelters - six health centres, and two warehouses.

    White phosphorus - a high-incendiary substance that burns brightly and for long periods on contact with the air - is often used to produce smoke screens.

    But it can also be used as a weapon producing extreme burns when it makes contact with human skin.

    The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported a brigade of paratroop reservists fired about 20 white phosphorus shells into the built-up area of Beit Lahiya on January 17, which landed in the UN-run compound where the two Palestinian children were killed and severe burns were inflicted on 14 other people.

    Amnesty International, the London-based rights group, has accused Israel of war crimes over its use of the munitions in heavily populated areas.

    Children killed

    International law forbids white phosphorus use against military targets within areas where civilians are concentrated, except when the targets are clearly separated and "all feasible precautions" are taken to avoid casualties among non-combatants.

    "I expect a full explanation of each incident and that those responsible will be held accountable for their actions," the statement quoted Ban as saying.

    Deadly weapons

    The Israeli military has also been accused of using Dense Inert Metal Explosive (Dime) weapons in urban areas, causing horrific abdominal and leg injuries.

    When detonated, a Dime device expels a blade of charged tungsten dust that burns and destroys everything within a four-metre radius.

    Israel has been criticised by human rights groups and foreign officials over its suspected use of a number of weapons during its aerial, naval and ground assault on the Palestinian territory in which over 1,300 Palestinians were killed.

    The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Wednesday it will open an investigation into whether Israel used depleted uranium, which is added to munitions as its density allows them to penetrate armour more easily, during the conflict.

    It is thought that the dust left at blast sites after the weapons have hit also pose a health risk, but a definitive link has not yet been proven.

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