Better Than Rocks

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Depleted uranium found in Gaza victims

Press TV – January 4, 2008

Medics tell Press TV they have found traces of depleted uranium in some Gazan residents wounded in Israel's ground offensive into the strip. Norwegian medics told Press TV correspondent Akram al-Sattari that some of the victims who have been wounded since Israel began its attacks on the Gaza Strip on December 27 have traces of depleted uranium in their bodies.

The report comes after Israeli tanks and troops swept across the border into Gaza on Saturday night, opening a ground operation after eight days of intensive attacks by Israeli air and naval forces on the impoverished region.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned on Sunday that the wide-ranging ground offensive in the Gaza Strip would be "full of surprises."

A ground offensive in the densely-populated Gaza is expected to drastically increase the death toll of the civilian population.

The latest assaults bring the number of Palestinians killed to over 488 with 2790 others wounded. The UN says that about 25 percent of the casualties were civilian deaths - including at least 34 children.

According to Israeli army officials, at least 30 of its soldiers have been wounded since the start of the ground campaign.

Amid global condemnation of the ongoing violence in the region, the UN Security Council failed to agree on a united approach to resolve the crisis.

" Once again, the world is watching in dismay the dysfunctionality of the Security Council," UN General Assembly chief Miguel d'Escoto said Sunday.

According to diplomatic sources, the US blocked a Security Council resolution, with US Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff arguing that an official statement that criticizes both Israel and Hamas would not be helpful.

The White House has so far declined to comment on whether an Israeli ground incursion into Gaza is a justified measure.

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Israel rains fire on Gaza with phosphorus shells

Israel is believed to be using controversial white phosphorus shells to screen its assault on the heavily populated Gaza Strip yesterday. The weapon, used by British and US forces in Iraq, can cause horrific burns but is not illegal if used as a smokescreen.

As the Israeli army stormed to the edges of Gaza City and the Palestinian death toll topped 500, the tell-tale shells could be seen spreading tentacles of thick white smoke to cover the troops’ advance. “These explosions are fantastic looking, and produce a great deal of smoke that blinds the enemy so that our forces can move in,” said one Israeli security expert. Burning blobs of phosphorus would cause severe injuries to anyone caught beneath them and force would-be snipers or operators of remote-controlled booby traps to take cover. Israel admitted using white phosphorus during its 2006 war with Lebanon.

The use of the weapon in the Gaza Strip, one of the world’s mostly densely population areas, is likely to ignite yet more controversy over Israel’s offensive, in which more than 2,300 Palestinians have been wounded

The Geneva Treaty of 1980 stipulates that white phosphorus should not be used as a weapon of war in civilian areas, but there is no blanket ban under international law on its use as a smokescreen or for illumination. However, Charles Heyman, a military expert and former major in the British Army, said: “If white phosphorus was deliberately fired at a crowd of people someone would end up in The Hague. White phosphorus is also a terror weapon. The descending blobs of phosphorus will burn when in contact with skin.”

The Israeli military last night denied using phosphorus, but refused to say what had been deployed. “Israel uses munitions that are allowed for under international law,” said Captain Ishai David, spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces. “We are pressing ahead with the second stage of operations, entering troops in the Gaza Strip to seize areas from which rockets are being launched into Israel.”

The civilian toll in the first 24 hours of the ground offensive — launched after a week of bombardment from air, land and sea— was at least 64 dead. Among those killed were five members of a family who died when an Israeli tank shell hit their car and a paramedic who died when a tank blasted his ambulance. Doctors at Gaza City’s main hospital said many women and children were among the dead and wounded.

The Israeli army also suffered its first fatality of the offensive when one of its soldiers was killed by mortar fire. More than 30 soldiers were wounded by mortars, mines and sniper fire.

Israel has brushed aside calls for a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into the besieged territory, where medical supplies are running short.

With increasingly angry anti-Israeli protests spreading around the world, Gordon Brown described the violence in Gaza as “a dangerous moment”.

White phosphorus: the smoke-screen chemical that can burn to the bone

— White phosphorus bursts into a deep-yellow flame when it is exposed to oxygen, producing a thick white smoke

— It is used as a smokescreen or for incendiary devices, but can also be deployed as an anti-personnel flame compound capable of causing potentially fatal burns

— Phosphorus burns are almost always second or third-degree because the particles do not stop burning on contact with skin until they have entirely disappeared — it is not unknown for them to reach the bone

— Geneva conventions ban the use of phosphorus as an offensive weapon against civilians, but its use as a smokescreen is not prohibited by international law

— Israel previously used white phosphorus during its war with Lebanon in 2006

— It has been used frequently by British and US forces in recent wars, notably during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Its use was criticised widely

— White phosphorus has the slang name “Willy Pete”, which dates from the First World War. It was commonly used in the Vietnam era

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Israel's military debates use of flechette round

The Israel Defence Force (IDF) is using tank-fired flechette anti-personnel rounds in its conflict with Palestinian militants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Military sources told Jane's Defence Weekly that the IDF is divided about the employment of the round, with some officers arguing that the shell is effective against certain targets while others warn of an international backlash.

The IDF is using a modified version of the M494 105mm APERS-T round provided by the USA in the 1970s. According to a US Army manual, the round is "designed for close-in assault against massed infantry assaults and for offensive fire against exposed enemy personnel".

In IDF service the M494 is fitted with the Reshef Technologies OMEGA M127 electronic fuze which is set before the round is fired. At the set range the forward section of the M494 round ruptures releasing approximately 5,000 small flechette darts and a dye marker. The flechettes are dispersed in a cone-shaped pattern which is 300m long and about 94m wide.

Although the IDF spokesman refused to comment on operational matters, other IDF sources told JDW that commanders are under orders to use the round sparingly and insist it has been employed on only a "handful" of occasions in Gaza. They said the round is used against targets such as mortar crews who cannot be engaged effectively by automatic fire.

"The Israeli military obtained these weapons from the USA after the 1973 war and we have thousands of old shells in warehouses," said an Israeli defence source. "The weapon is not regarded as reliable or effective and gunners have a difficult time in aiming this properly."

Israel Military Industries has developed a 120mm APERS round and the more advanced 105mm and 120mm Anti-Personnel, Anti-Materiel (APAM) round, which is intended to defeat targets such as anti-tank teams. Military sources said the APAM has not been used against Palestinian combatants.

The use of flechette rounds in war is not proscribed by the Geneva Convention but their use in internal security operations is more problematic. A US State Department official told JDW: "There has been no determination as to whether Israel has done something to violate the Arms Export Control Act" or any other arms-related law or agreement in its recent military actions. The official added that the state and defence departments are reviewing those actions and Israel's use of other US-supplied weapons, but refused to confirm whether the flechette rounds were specifically included.

Summer Rains and Saad

Friday, 08 December 2006

Gaza - Autumn 2006 --- The thin and limpid crescent lies on its back in a clear sky. If it does not reappear tomorrow then Ramadan will end. A 'drone' can be heard above the amplified recitations of the Quran, but it cannot be seen.

On the third floor of the battered and very busy Shifa hospital here in Gaza city lies a 9 yr old boy in his fourth month of recovery. Saad is a sad and frightened boy. He has lost all the muscle from the front of his left thigh. The shape of his femur can be seen in its entirety beneath the skillful skin grafting. There is just a twitch of motion in the foot. Most parts of his young body are scarred. There are many of punctate type, including on his face. There is a colostomy which will probably be permanent because his bowels were badly damaged. The tracheostomy has healed, and the pleural fistula is well on that way.

Following the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit and the shooting dead of two of his comrades by a Palestinian guerrilla unit on the 25th of June, 'Operation Summer Rains' was set in place by the occupier headed by Mr Olmert. This was on top of the medieval siege which started at the end of March and in which Israel was joined by the twenty-five nations of the EU, the US, Canada and Japan. This was the reward for scrupulous elections and a Hamas majority of 72 seats in a legislature of 135.

There are no ends to the ingenuity of collective punishment. In November 2005, the 1.4 million population had been terrified by sonic booms at roof top level. British Aerospace should be rightly proud of the head-up cockpit display in those F16s which so enhanced the aeronautical skills of the IAF as they smashed sleep and windows in Gaza prison. Anyway, post-Shalit there was an explosion of state assassination from the air. In early July, Saad was in the street when hell was loosed from a drone. Two people were killed immediately and two others died shortly after admission because their injuries were so severe. So Saad is a living remnant of electronic and explosive wizardry.

The surgeons of El Shifa have many high resolution photographs of the surviving and the dead. These are not correlated with the target sites and neither are there names or numbers of the victims. However, in those post-Shalit weeks they saw over 250 deaths including 57 children. In such conditions of chaos, grief and horror, record keeping is relegated.

The injuries shown in these digital pictures were categorised as follows:-

1. Widespread burning and flaying ie no skin/fat and with muscle exposed. Some of the burns appeared to be the result of high temperature flash burns. Saad is a living example.

Agents - thermobaric missile – Hellfire AGM-114N - plus incendiary material.

2. Amputation by blast at the root of the legs or the lower torso.

Agent - the Palestinians believe there is a bomb or a missile with a projecting lance which causes detonation above the ground.

3. Less severe injury of the skin – possibly some burning – but with rupture of soft viscera. Some were admitted dead in all probability, but others went on to exploration. Ruptured livers, blood in the chest cavity, etc. Death was usual.

Agent - shock wave – push and pull of a thermobaric missile.

4. Entry wounds like those of shrapnel. Sometimes limbs without a blood supply. X-rays showed no retained metal. Explored – burnt, but not charred tissue, with complex branching extensions. Very difficult to expose all the abnormal tissue and to excise it. Therefore a high infection rate, higher amputation rate and a higher mortality rate.

Agents – thermobaric weapon containing incendiary material. Phosphorus or uranium are possibilities.

The doctors noted that whatever missiles or bombs were being used, they were more lethal and the injuries were often terrible. The amputation and death rates in hospital were very different from what they had seen before. They were well used to dealing with the results of shrapnel and high explosive injury before this 'epidemic'.

Some have cast doubt on the provenance of these photographs. They must offer explanations. Certainly Saad would appear to be a survivor of the first type of injury listed but his injuries were a little less grotesque.

Two target sites were visited. The first appeared to be unexceptional aside from the killing.

The second involved a missile that entered a house during the night. One person was killed and twenty-four injured. A girl of three was in a hip spica plaster. It was understood she had a fracture of a femur from falling masonry. A young man had three punctate burns, two being black. A grandmother had a blackened tip of her left index finger. The bone was injured in some way. When the missile had struck over a week before a liquid was seen. This had a very unpleasant smell and it was this which caused the burns. The smell was still coming out of the ground which had been leveled for re-building. Parts of the missile casing were seen. A pear-shaped and very heavy lump of metal had been gathered too.

The people in the remnants of Palestine are in a special category in international law. The majority are displaced persons and thus they are due special protection.

Might the nations of the world, sixty years from the Nuremberg Rules, insist upon international law and observe the universal norms of humanity. The killing and maiming must stop forthwith – everywhere.

A protocol for the investigation of all military attacks in Gaza has been put forward. A scintillation counter was ordered by the physics department at the Islamic University in Gaza but its importation had been barred. Outside experts will be needed to re-inforce the inspection team in the early stages.

Saad means - 'happiness'. Oh would that little Saad be made whole and happy again.

Gentle Jesus meek and mild, look down upon this little child - in this the Holy Land.

Dr Al Saqqa and his colleagues of the El Shifa hospital are thanked warmly for providing the accounts and photographs of these injuries and deaths.

David Halpin FRCS Trauma and orthopaedic surgeon. He founded the Dove and the Dolphin Charity 1100119, one of the aims of which is to promote the health and welfare of Palestinian children.