The IDF will refrain from using white phosphorous shells in populated areas, the State informed the High Court of Justice on Monday in response to a petition filed by human rights groups asking to ban the incendiary munitions.
However, the army said it would continue to use the shells in two exceptional cases, which were specified to the court behind closed doors.
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The white phosphorous shells were first used by the IDF to create smokescreens during its 2008-2009 offensive in Gaza. The use of the weapon drew harsh international criticism, and was mentioned in the Goldstone Report. In March 2011 human rights group Yesh Gvul petitioned the court demanding it ban the use of such shells for smoke-screening purposes in civilian areas.
Palestinian organizations and other human rights groups also criticized the IDF's use of white phosphorous shells. In November 2011 the State responded to the petition, saying that while the laws of war allow the use of white phosphorous shells for smoke-screening purposes in urban areas, Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh, who served as deputy chief of staff at the time, ordered a significant reduction in the use of artillery shells containing white phosphorus.
While legal when fired to mask troop movements on battlefields, white phosphorus poses a fire risk.
During the Gaza fighting, Israel said troops fired mortar rounds with white phosphorus warheads to clear brush around trenches used by Palestinian terrorists.
During Monday's hearing, the petitioners said they were not satisfied with the State's response, stressing the need for a full ban on the weapon. However, the petitioners agreed to allow the State's representatives to specify to the judges, behind closed doors, the cases in which white phosphorous shells would be used. The judges asked the petitioners to withdraw their appeal, saying the cases in which white phosphorous shells would be used were in fact "unusual and extreme."
"The army's decision is a step in the right direction, but we are not aware of a legal exception that allows for the use of white phosphorous shells in populated areas," said Attorney Michael Sfard, representing Yesh Gvul.
"We hope the court will instruct the IDF to further restrict the use of white phosphorous. In light of the army's position, it is clear that the use of white phosphorous during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza was illegal and immoral," he said.
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