Israel admits to using white phosphorous in Gaza

Israeli government disciplines soldiers responsible for the white phosphorous attack on a UN compound in Gaza. Gaddafi’s bid for AU leadership rejected. Russian police disperse demonstrators. British couple claim ill treatment at hands of Somali captors. Haiti withholds Americans accused of smuggling children. All this and more in today's update.
Maddy Fry
1 February 2010

The Israeli government has confirmed reports that it had been using the chemical white phosphorous against Palestinian civilians in its assault on Gaza between 2008 and 2009, despite previous denials. Two army officers have been subject to disciplinary action as a result, yet still retain their respective ranks. The incident is said to have been noted on their records and may be brought up if either apply for promotion. Rules of engagement in warfare prevent the use of such tactics near areas that are densely populated, but eye witnesses claim that scores of artillery shells were fired over a UN compound. Doctors at the main hospital in Gaza have reported needing to provide care to hundreds of Palestinians who were injured during the attack.

The openSecurity verdict: If brought into contact with human bodies, white phosphorous can burn through skin to the bone, lodging itself internally and potentially leading to organ failure. Although its use is permitted by international law during offensives made on open ground, in areas where there are heavy concentrations of civilians it is forbidden. This latest admission by the Israeli government was found embedded deep in a document given last week to the UN. The government in Tel Aviv has denied allegations made by Human Rights Watch that its use of white phosphorous as a weapon of war has been much more widespread against Palestinians in packed residential areas. The fact that criminal charges will not be brought against the officers held responsible makes the Israeli move unlikely to signal any radical departure from its much criticised rules of engagement.

The UN has commanded that both Israel and Hamas conduct independent investigations into their conduct respectively during the siege on Gaza. Yet Hamas denies it sought to launch rockets against Israeli civilians. Coupled with Israel’s insistence that its latest concession is not designed to address the accusations made in the recent Goldstone report released by the UN (which insisted that both sides in the conflict had committed war crimes), the likelihood that either side will come to terms with the atrocities they inflicted looks slim. The proposals of the UN as always seem well-guided, but are likely to remain ineffectual at promoting justice for those civilians killed and injured on either side in the conflict.

Gaddafi’s bid for AU leadership rejected

The president of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, lost his position as president of the African Union (AU) after an election which saw the Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika instated in his place. Gaddafi called for greater unity in Africa and insisted that the Union needed to focus on preventing the south of Sudan breaking away from the rest of the country. Despite the system of rotating leadership that the AU employs, Gaddafi tried to extend his term further. His attempts to cling on to the presidency are thought to have caused some resentment among other African leaders, of whom many in the south and east of the continent have given their backing to Mutharika.

Russian police disperse demonstrators

In the run-up to Russian elections, protesters in Moscow and St. Petersburg yesterday flouted the law by gathering to pay tribute to the 31st Article of the Russian Constitution, which states a commitment to freedom of assembly. However, a ban on demonstrating prompted the police to break up the protests. Those taken into custody include Eduard Limonov and Boris Nemtsov, two leaders of the opposition.

British couple claim ill treatment at hands of Somali captors

A middle-aged couple from the UK, Rachel and Paul Chandler, are suffering increased distress over their being kept apart since their capture at the hands of Somali pirates in October 2009. They are being interned at a camp between the regions of Elhur and Amara near the coast of Somalia, guarded by heavily armed pirates. A Saudi doctor visited them recently and reported that the two are in poor health. Rachel Chandler, aged 56, is reported to have anxiety and insomnia whilst her husband, 60, is feverish and has lost weight. The two have pleaded to the outside world for help, warning that their captors have ‘lost patience.’

Haiti holds Americans accused of smuggling children

American members of a Baptist church group were detained by the Haitian authorities after trying to take a number of children into the Dominican Republic.  They claimed they wanted to start an orphanage for children who had been displaced by the recent earthquake that wrought devastation upon the country. The group of ten from Idaho had tried to cross the border without adoption papers, an offense which the Haitian government has started to clamp down on with greater force following growing fears over child trafficking. Many attempts at adoptions by prospective foreign parents have been halted because of concerns over the vulnerability of parentless children. The Americans are currently being held in the custody of Haitian police. They claim that no money was exchanged for the children and that they were simply “trying to do the right thing.”

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