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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gaza war munitions investigated

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says it will open an investigation into Israel's alleged use of depleted uranium during the 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Wednesday's announcement came after Arab nations sent a letter to Mohammed ElBaradei, the IAEA director-general, asking the UN agency to investigate whether the controversial munitions were used in the war, which left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead.

Depleted uranium is added to munitions because its density allows them to penetrate armour more easily.

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

"We are circulating the letter to member states and will investigate the matter to the extent of our ability," Melissa Fleming, an IAEA spokeswoman, said after the UN agency received the letter from the Saudi Arabian ambassador.

The exact course of action will be decided after member states have been consulted, the UN agency said.

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.

Phosphorus investigation
The Israeli army has launched an internal investigation into the use of white phosphorus, a highly incendiary substance that can burn away flesh to the bone.
On Wednesday, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that the inquiry would focus on the alleged firing of about 20 phosphorus shells around the northern town of Beit Lahiya by Israeli paratroopers.

Amnesty International, a London-based human rights group, has said that its use in Gaza's densely populated urban neighbourhoods was a"war crime".

International law does not outlaw white phosphorus, an "obscurant" used to create smoke screens to cover troop movements of illuminated targets, but human rights groups have said that its use could be illegal in civilian areas if "all feasible precautions" are not taken.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, along with the United Nations relief agency in Gaza, have said there is widespread evidence of Israel's use of the controversial chemcial munition during the Gaza war.

Israel has previously refused to confirm that white phosphorus was used in the territory, but said that all weapons were legal under international law.

Haaretz reported that the Israeli military fired a total of 200 white phosphorus shells during the three-week Gaza offensive.

'Rebuilding tunnels'

There have also been accusations that the Israeli military used 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.

One of Israel's stated aims of their offensive was to stop weapons being smuggled into the Gaza Strip. However, Al Jazeera on Wednesday received footage apparently showing the rebuilding of weapons smuggling tunnels into the Strip.

Mark Regev, the spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, told Al Jazeera: "We said we didn't want Hamas to re-arm when this is over ... But what we've got in place, which we didn't have before this campaign, is a broad international coalition ... who are committed to making sure Iranian missiles don't reach the Gaza Strip."

Regev said this would be ensured by more intense border security between Gaza and Egypt and stepping up efforts to intercept rockets on transport routes from Iran to the Gaza Strip.

Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, who is in exiled in Damascus, said later on Wednesday that his organisation had been victorious during the offensive by Israel.

"We achieved our aims by forcing the enemy to halt its aggression and to withdraw," he said.

"But two more battles are left to win: to lift the blockade and open the crossing points [with Gaza], especially at Rafah [in Egypt] which is our gateway to the world."

Meshaal also said that Israel should begin to talk to Hamas and accused Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, of abandoning "the resistance in the face of the Israeli occupation."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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