Media Hyped ‘War Crime’ Accusations Against Israel, But Ignored Report by Israeli Military

After months of investigation, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) released a report addressing accusations from some humanitarian groups that its use of white phosphorus (WP) munitions in the Gaza War was a violation of international law, as the report distinguishes between the use of WP as a weapon and the more common non-weapon purposes such as providing smoke screens to conceal troop movements. The pro-Israel group CAMERA recently quoted from the report in the article, "Did Israel’s Use of White Phosphorus Constitute a War Crime?" by Steven Stotsky, on its Web site. The report not only argued that the military's decision to explode the munition in the air was safer for civilians than it would have been to explode it on the ground, but it also suggested that the use of WP to facilitate troops movements also meant civilian casualties were lower than they otherwise would have been by making attacks on Hamas more accurate.

Last January, evening newscasts and some morning newscasts on the broadcast networks and on CNN and FNC reported on accusations from humanitarian groups – with varying degrees of accuracy – with CBS even referring to WP as a "banned weapon," and a "horrific new weapon, " and contending that the IDF may have committed "war crimes." At one point, CNN similarly incorrectly identified WP as a "banned substance." ABC showed a clip of a wounded Palestinian boy charging that Israelis have "no mercy" even for children. (MSNBC does not have a morning or evening newscast equivalent to NBC’s Today show or the NBC Nightly News, so MSNBC coverage was not examined.) But, according to a Nexis search, none of these news programs showed any interest in updating viewers once the Israeli military had made public its say on the matter.

As previously documented by NewsBusters, the January 22 CBS Evening News ran a report (video here), introduced by anchor Katie Couric, which left the impression that the Israeli military had used a "banned weapon," without informing viewers that there are non-weapon uses for WP, and passed on accusations of "war crimes." Couric: "Hamas just ended a bloody war with Israel in Gaza, and tonight there is growing evidence the Israelis may have used a banned weapon. Some even accuse them of war crimes."

On the January 25 World News Sunday on ABC, as he introduced a report by correspondent Simon McGregor-Wood, anchor Dan Harris played up complaints against "both sides" in the war, and even suggested that the Israeli side may have been worse in its conduct of the war as he highlighted that there was "especially tough criticism" leveled at Israel. Harris: "Both sides are being dogged now by complaints that they violated the rules of war. Israel has come under especially tough criticism for its use of a chemical agent."

McGregor-Wood’s report was only somewhat better than that of CBS in that he at least informed viewers that the American military has used WP in recent years, and that it is commonly used to provide smoke screens. But he ended the report by quoting a nine-year-old Palestinian boy as accusing Israel of having "no mercy" even on children, as it was theorized that the boy had been injured by WP. McGregor-Wood: "At Gaza's Shifa Hospital, we found nine-year-old Mohammed al Mamlik, burned when a shell burst above his home. ‘You have no mercy,’ he said to Israel. ‘You're doing everything to us, and we are just children.’"

Of the three broadcast networks, a report filed by NBC's Richard Engel was most favorable to Israel as, on the Sunday, January 11, NBC Nightly News, Engel more directly reported that the purpose of the Israeli military’s use of WP was to "create smoke to conceal troop movements," and informed viewers that it is also used by the American military:

And doctors in Gaza today accused Israel of using controversial white phosphorus munitions. Human rights groups say video from Gaza appears to show white phosphorus shells exploding to create smoke to hide troop movements. The chemical can also be lethal. ... White phosphorus is not illegal under international law. The U.S. military uses it extensively in Afghanistan. Today, Israel refused to comment on white phosphorus, saying only it abides by the laws of war.

After showing a soundbite of human rights activist Marc Garlasco complaining that WP was being used too close to civilians, Engel even passed on the Israeli military’s complaint that Hamas was endangering Palestinian civilians "because its fighters have bunkered in cities and continue to fire 20 rockets and mortars a day into Israel."

On the January 13 Special Report with Bret Baier on FNC, correspondent Reena Ninan similarly informed viewers that while human rights groups were complaining about the use of WP, the substance is used to "mask troop movements." Ninan:

REENA NINAN: The Israeli military uses white phosphorus in artillery shells to create smoke screens to mask troop movements on the ground. Human rights groups say this substance is lethal when used in populated areas and have left burn marks on civilians in Gaza. This video shot exclusively by Fox News shows a destroyed home in Gaza, and this Israeli shell with Hebrew writing reads "exploding smoke," a military description for phosphorus. Palestinian doctors say these shells left dozens injured.

FRED ABRAMS, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: It shoots down more than 100 flaming, burning hot wafers which can set homes on fire and burn civilians. And we're beginning to see that now, deep and troubling wounds. It looks like they're being affected by these, by these bombs in populated areas.

NINAN: Israel says the use of exploding smoke is not meant to target civilians.

AVITAL LEIBOVICH, ISRAELI ARMY SPOKESWOMAN: Any munitions we're using is with accordance to the international law.

As Wolf Blitzer teased the January 7 The Situation Room on CNN, he incorrectly claimed that WP is a "banned substance." Blitzer: "Happening now, Israel accused of targeting Gaza with white phosphorus. That's a banned substance that can severely burn civilians."

CNN correspondent Barbara Starr did relay that the American military has used WP, but she did not inform viewers that WP can be used to produce smoke screens, as she only dealt with its use as a weapon:

International protocols prohibit the use of incendiary weapons against civilian populations. In this video, it's not clear if the burning material falls on populated areas. In 2005, the U.S. military acknowledged using white phosphorous in Fallujah to flush out insurgents. Now, the Israelis may be using a similar strategy with a different goal. ... Wolf, whatever these weapons are all about, the Israeli Defense Forces insist they abide by all international laws regarding the use of weapons and ammunition.

On the Thursday, January 15, American Morning on CNN, after U.N. official John Ging was interviewed by anchor John Roberts and related his belief that the fire at a U.N. warehouse had been caused by white phosphorus munitions, anchor Kieren Chetry later recapped the story by claiming that "International law forbids using [WP artillery shells] in densely populated civilian areas," without informing viewers of the other non-weapon uses of white phosphorus. Chetry: "One U.N. official telling CNN that it was hit with white phosphorus artillery shells. International law forbids using them in densely populated civilian areas."

CNN’s Anderson Cooper should be credited for taking a moment on the January 12 Anderson Cooper 360 show to clarify that the use of WP by a military is not necessarily illegal, depending on how it is used. After a report by correspondent Nic Robertson, Cooper prompted Robertson for clarification:

ANDERSON COOPER: Nic, just on the white phosphorus charges, a military is allowed to use white phosphorus on the battlefield for illumination purposes, not against individuals. Is that correct? Am I wrong?

NIC ROBERTSON: No, that's absolutely correct. And that's what Israeli officials are saying. They're saying, we have got the same ammunitions in our weaponry that, for example, NATO forces, U.S. forces have. And we know that, for example, in the Fallujah operation in Iraq in 2004, U.S. troops used white phosphorous for illumination. It's when it falls to the ground, before it fully burns out, that it causes these types of casualties.

Also of note, even though CNN Newsroom does not fit the definition of an evening or morning newscast, during the Thursday, January 15, Newsroom – during the 3:00 p.m. hour – CNN passed on reports that the Israeli military had damaged a United Nations building with white phosphorus munitions. Referring to early reports that someone in the Israeli military or government had inaccurately denied any use of WP, anchor Rick Sanchez expressed a view that there was a "pattern" that was "not helpful" to the Israelis because there had been several accusations regarding the use of WP which the Israeli military had denied each time. CNN’s international correspondent, Jim Clancy, soon accused "both sides" of having a "lack of respect of human life." Sanchez:

But let's go through this. First they said that they were using white phosphorous and they denied it. Then they said, then they were accused of using white phosphorus on people and they denied it, and now they're accused of using white phosphorus on the U.N. building. After awhile there starts to be a pattern there. This is not helpful for Israel around the world, if for no other reason, through perception.

Clancy, a bit later: "It's a lack and respect of human life, we're seeing right now, by both sides. Not by one side, by both sides."

Returning to the Thursday, January 22, report on CBS, as she plugged the story before a commercial break, Couric referred to WP as a "horrific new weapon," even though WP has been in use since World War I: "And coming up next right here on the CBS Evening News, was it a war crime? Israel's accused of using a horrific new weapon against Hamas."

As Couric introduced the piece by correspondent Allen Pizzey, she incorrectly called WP a "banned weapon," and, after ignoring numerous violations of international law perpetrated by Hamas, relayed charges that Israel may have committed "war crimes." Couric: "Hamas gave a thumbs-down to President Obama today, saying his Middle East policy is no different from President Bush's. Hamas just ended a bloody war with Israel in Gaza, and tonight there is growing evidence the Israelis may have used a banned weapon. Some even accuse them of war crimes."

Although Pizzey did vaguely refer to WP as being a "smoke-producing" chemical, he did not clarify that WP is commonly used to produce this smoke to facilitate troop movements, which constitutes a non-weapon use, leaving Couric's suggestion that it was a "banned weapon" and a "horrific new weapon" unchallenged.

Pizzey began his report: "These images are part of what Amnesty International calls indisputable proof the Israeli military illegally used white phosphorus in Gaza. The smoke-producing and incendiary chemical is banned in civilian areas because of its intense heat and fumes." After the CBS correspondent relayed the Israeli point of view that "The Israelis admit firing 200 white phosphorus shells, but deny breaking international law," the rest of the story was devoted to describing WP's effects on humans and making the case against Israel. Pizzey concluded: "The Israelis have ordered an inquiry, but human rights groups are calling for an international investigation."

On the Sunday, January 11, Good Morning America, ABC's Simon McGregor-Wood brought up the WP issue on his network for the first time: "There's mounting concern over Israel's tactics. Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of causing civilian casualties by using these phosphorus shells in built-up areas. That's against international law. Israel denies it."

Later, on the January 11, World News Sunday, during a story – which, on the bright side, focused largely on the deadly obstacles left by Hamas members for Israeli troops to wade through and even credited the Israeli military with trying to avoid civilian casualties – McGregor-Wood this time mentioned that the purpose of phosphorus munitions was to "obscure troop movements." McGregor-Wood: "Human rights campaigners accuse Israel of using shells containing burning white phosphorus. They're meant to obscure troop movements, but Gaza's hospitals are filling up with civilian burn victims."

As anchor Dan Harris introduced the report, he notably contended that "Both sides are now engaging in some unconventional tactics and deceptions," although the report did not specify which of the Israeli military's actions Harris considered to be "unconventional tactics" or "deceptions."

On January 25, ABC revisited the WP issue, and, as anchor Harris set up a report on World News Sunday, he seemed to suggest not only that there was wrongdoing on "both sides" of the conflict, but that the Israeli side may have been worse. Harris: "It's been a week since the fighting in Gaza ended, but both sides are being dogged now by complaints that they violated the rules of war. Israel has come under especially tough criticism for its use of a chemical agent."

In the subsequent report, McGregor-Wood focused on complaints against the Israeli military, but, in contrast to the CBS Evening News, the ABC correspondent did at least inform viewers that the IDF was most likely not aiming WP at people or any other targets – i.e., WP was not being used as a weapon – as he relayed that WP is "good for hiding troop movements." Also unlike CBS, he informed viewers that even the American military has deemed the use of WP as acceptable: "In 2004, the U.S. used it to root out insurgents in Fallujah."

After noting that the substance can cause severe burns if it comes into contact with human skin, he further relayed that "It's controversial, but not banned, unless intentionally used against civilians. But in Gaza, they are everywhere," before passing on a complaint by human rights activist Yael Stein: "There's no doubt that civilians will get injured because of the use of it, and therefore, it is forbidden."

After informing viewers that, "In response to accusations it used phosphorus illegally, the Israeli army has launched an investigation," and that, "In a statement, it would only say it uses weapons permitted by law," McGregor-Wood ominously relayed that "Israel is worried about possible war crimes charges."

While the ABC correspondent’s report had been somewhat balanced up to that point, he seemed to turn more sharply against Israel as he concluded, relaying a quote from a nine-year-old Palestinian boy who may have been injured by WP as the boy accused Israelis of having "no mercy." McGregor-Wood: "At Gaza's Shifa Hospital, we found nine-year-old Mohammed al Mamlik, burned when a shell burst above his home. ‘You have no mercy,’ he said to Israel. ‘You're doing everything to us, and we are just children.’"

Below are more thorough transcripts of the reports cited from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and FNC:

#From the Thursday, January 22, CBS Evening News:

KATIE COURIC. BEFORE COMMERCIAL BREAK: And coming up next right here on the CBS Evening News, was it a war crime? Israel's accused of using a horrific new weapon against Hamas.

...

COURIC: Hamas gave a thumbs-down to President Obama today, saying his Middle East policy is no different from President Bush's. Hamas just ended a bloody war with Israel in Gaza, and tonight there is growing evidence the Israelis may have used a banned weapon. Some even accuse them of war crimes. From Gaza, here's Allen Pizzey.

ALLEN PIZZEY: These images are part of what Amnesty International calls indisputable proof the Israeli military illegally used white phosphorus in Gaza. The smoke producing and incendiary chemical is banned in civilian areas because of its intense heat and fumes. The Israelis admit firing 200 white phosphorus shells, but deny breaking international law. The last bombing raid here was a week ago. The area is littered with piece of shrapnel and bits of sticky, gummy brown material like this. Rub it, it bursts into flame and emits an acrid smoke. Distinct characteristics, experts say, of white phosphorous. Saba Halema's hands are an example of the kind of wound white phosphorus inflicts.

DOCTOR NAFEZ ABU SHABAN, AL-SHIFA HOSPITAL CHIEF OF BURN UNIT: In hours, it is becoming much deeper and much wider, plus the smoke comes out from the wound.

PIZZEY: The UN refugee agency says white phosphorus hit its warehouse in the city center.

KAREN ABU ZAYD, UN RELIEF AND WORKS AGENCY: You've got people that have said if it looks like white phosphorus, if it acts like white phosphorus, it must be white phosphorous.

PIZZEY: Jodie Clark risked her life to pull a burning shell from under a fuel tanker.

JODIE CLARK, UN RELIEF AND WORKS AGENCY: I ran to the workshops. Another shell landed, probably 30 meters in front of me, and then just fireworks burst up from the ground and sprayed pellets of a burning substance all over the place.

PIZZEY: This is part of one of the shells.

CLARK: The fire extinguisher didn't put it out. It continued to burn. And in fact, when we went back an hour later to fight the rest of the fire, it was still burning.

PIZZEY: The Israelis have ordered an inquiry, but human rights groups are calling for an international investigation. Allen Pizzey, CBS News, Gaza City.

#From the January 11 World News Sunday:

DAN HARRIS: Now, to another international crisis likely to land in Barack Obama's lap on day one, Gaza. Today, Israeli troops pushed deeper into the most populated areas, engaging in some of the fiercest fighting yet. Both sides are now engaging in some unconventional tactics and deceptions. Simon McGregor-Wood is in Israel tonight.

SIMON MCGREGOR-WOOD: Hamas has left many surprises for Israeli soldiers in Gaza, so many doors are booby-trapped, Israeli soldiers enter buildings by blasting through walls. These tunnels and bunkers stored weapons and hid fighters. Soldiers have discovered dozens of roadside bombs, bomb-sniffing dogs have become a soldier's best friend. At this specially built mock Palestinian town, Israel is training thousands of reservists to send into Gaza's dangerous battlefield. The holes here have already been made. These Israeli reservists are trying to train in an environment as close as possible to the one they may eventually face in Gaza. They're training how to go house to house to find their targets while sparing civilian casualties. But that's not always possible. The Israelis accuse Hamas of shooting from positions crowded with civilians, including schools and mosques. Israel's heavy weapons have caused hundreds of civilian casualties. Human rights campaigners accuse Israel of using shells containing burning white phosphorus. They're meant to obscure troop movements, but Gaza's hospitals are filling up with civilian burn victims. Until now, Israeli forces have encircled Gaza's cities to really damage Hamas. They may have to go further in. That will mean more casualties on both sides. Before any ceasefire, Israel insists Hamas must be unable to rearm. That means shutting down hundreds of smuggling tunnels like these under the Egyptian border that are used by Hamas to smuggle weapons. Israel is pounding them from the air. But once a rock solid diplomatic deal to make sure they remain closed when their soldiers finally leave the increasingly mean streets of Gaza. Simon McGregor-Wood, ABC News, at an Israeli training base in southern Israel.

#From the January 25 World News Sunday:

DAN HARRIS: It's been a week since the fighting in Gaza ended, but both sides are being dogged now by complaints that they violated the rules of war. Israel has come under especially tough criticism for its use of a chemical agent. Simon McGregor-Wood is in Jerusalem tonight.

SIMON MCGREGOR-WOOD: It was these shells that set fire to the main U.N. compound in Gaza City. It burned for days. The shells always burst in midair, sending out streaks of white smoke and bright, burning lumps of phosphorus. It's a chemical that produces clouds of white smoke. It's good for hiding troop movements, but in contact with skin, it causes ferocious burning that's difficult to stop.

MARC GARLASCO, MILITARY ANALYST: You can watch very clearly the jellyfish effect of the white phosphorus shell, and this causes extreme fire and the potential for civilian harm.

SIMON MCGREGOR-WOOD: It's controversial, but not banned, unless intentionally used against civilians. But in Gaza, they are everywhere.

YAEL STEIN, HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATE: There's no doubt that civilians will get injured because of the use of it, and therefore, it is forbidden.

SIMON MCGREGOR-WOOD: In response to accusations it used phosphorus illegally, the Israeli army has launched an investigation. In a statement, it would only say it uses weapons permitted by law. But Israel is worried about possible war crimes charges. Today, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised the government would defend its soldiers from these charges, just as they had defended Israel in Gaza. Phosphorus has been used since World War I. In 2004, the U.S. used it to root out insurgents in Fallujah. At Gaza's Shifa Hospital, we found nine-year-old Mohammed al Mamlik, burned when a shell burst above his home. "You have no mercy," he said to Israel. "You're doing everything to us, and we are just children." Mohammed's doctor says he's not exactly sure what caused his terrible injuries, but after he was admitted, the burning continued for hours. Simon McGregor-Wood, Jerusalem.

#From the Sunday, January 11, NBC Nightly News:

LESTER HOLT: Overseas now. There are growing signs tonight that Israel's ground offensive into Gaza may be about to enter a new and possibly more intense phase. NBC's chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, is near the Israeli/Gaza border and joins us now with the latest. Richard?

RICHARD ENGEL: Good evening, Lester. We've been hearing a steady barrage of artillery fire into Gaza tonight as Israel made its deepest advance yet into Gaza City and sent in some reserve troops. It's a slow, dangerous advance into Gaza City. As Israeli troops push deeper into the city of 400,000, Israel says it is finding an urban minefield, Gaza rigged for battle. Israel intensified its bombing of houses, roads and mosques it claims were boobytrapped with mannequins strapped with bombs, anti-tank mines and waiting suicide bombers.

AVITAL LEIBOVICH, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES SPOKESPERSON: We see boobytrapped areas, we see snipers that are all over the civilian neighborhoods, and not only the civilian neighborhoods. Hamas is using a lot of mortar fire.

ENGEL: Today, the Israeli Army showed reporters a video filmed by its soldiers at Gaza City Zoo. Next to a lion's cage, the soldiers follow a cable they say was attached to a bomb. They defused it. But for Palestinians, shelter in Gaza is increasingly hard to find. Thousands are taking refuge in United Nations schools. There's little food or clean water. And doctors in Gaza today accused Israel of using controversial white phosphorus munitions. Human rights groups say video from Gaza appears to show white phosphorus shells exploding to create smoke to hide troop movements. The chemical can also be lethal.

DOCTOR NAFIZ ABU SHA'ABAN, AL-SHIFA HOSPITAL: Burns which we receive here are not like the burns which we used to treat here. It's mostly massive and very deep burns.

ENGEL: White phosphorus is not illegal under international law. The US military uses it extensively in Afghanistan. Today, Israel refused to comment on white phosphorous, saying only it abides by the laws of war.

MARC GARLASCO, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: The problem is that the Israelis are dropping them over the refugee camps, and this is causing potential for civilian harm that just can't be justified.

ENGEL: Israel blames Hamas for civilian deaths in Gaza because its fighters have bunkered in cities and continue to fire 20 rockets and mortars a day into Israel. Israeli intelligence believes Hamas has not been able to restock its supply of rockets, but still has enough in reserve to continue firing them into Israel for another two to three weeks, Lester.

#From the Tuesday, January 13, Special Report with Bret Baier:

BRET BAIER: Israel is sending its key negotiator to Egypt Thursday to participate in cease-fire talks. Egyptian mediators are pushing Hamas to accept a truce proposal, and U.N. Secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon is headed to the region. But while many are talking peace, Israeli troops are pushing forward in Gaza. Correspondent Reena Ninan has an update.

REENA NINAN: The Israeli military is now surrounding Gaza city, where half a million Palestinians live pounding with air strikes what is considered the most densely populated place on Earth. Border crossings with Israel and Egypt are closed, and civilians are faced with little choice but to brace themselves and find shelter wherever they can. Of the more than 950 people killed in Gaza since this campaign began, Israel estimates the number of dead Hamas fighters ranges from 400 to 500. The rest are civilians. But Palestinians disagree, saying the majority are civilians. The Israeli military uses white phosphorus in artillery shells to create smoke screens to mask troop movements on the ground. Human rights groups say this substance is lethal when used in populated areas and have left burn marks on civilians in Gaza. This video shot exclusively by Fox News shows a destroyed home in Gaza, and this Israeli shell with Hebrew writing reads "exploding smoke," a military description for phosphorus. Palestinian doctors say these shells left dozens injured.

FRED ABRAMS, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: It shoots down more than 100 flaming, burning hot wafers which can set homes on fire and burn civilians. And we're beginning to see that now, deep and troubling wounds. It looks like they're being affected by these, by these bombs in populated areas.

NINAN: Israel says the use of exploding smoke is not meant to target civilians.

AVITAL LEIBOVICH, ISRAELI ARMY SPOKESWOMAN: Any munitions we're using is with accordance to the international law.

NINAN: Today, Hamas released this video showing their snipers shooting down Israeli soldiers. The Israeli army confirmed several of their soldiers have been wounded in combat. Reports suggest Israel would like to end its military campaign before President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration next week. The next few days will determine the substance of an agreement that could end this round of violence. Along the Israeli-Gaza border, Reena Ninan.

#From the January 7, 2009, The Situation Room on CNN:

WOLF BLITZER, AFTER COMMERCIAL BREAK DURING 4:00 P.M. HOUR: Happening now, Israel accused of targeting Gaza with white phosphorus. That's a banned substance that can severely burn civilians. Is there any photographic proof? We're going to go live to the Pentagon. Barbara Starr will have a fact check for us.

...

WOLF BLITZER, DURING THE 5:00 HOUR: Beyond the casualty toll, this war has triggered a humanitarian crisis. In Israel, where a million people are within Hamas rocket range, schools and public institutions near the border have been closed. But in Gaza, it's truly a nightmare. Relief agencies say two thirds of the population is without electricity right now, and fuel is in very short supply. A U.N. agency reports 800,000 people have no running water. Food is getting into Gaza, but distribution is a problem, leaving many short of basic items. Hospitals operate on generators, but are short of medicine, blood and other supplies. Starbursts lighting up the skies over Gaza, there's controversy right now growing over just what types of munitions are these and how they are being used. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been looking into this.

BARBARA STARR: Questions are being asked, what is this weapon the Israelis exploded several times over Gaza? We showed the video to a defense expert.

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: White phosphorus. Willy peat white phosphorus shells, obviously. There's nothing else like it. That's obviously what it is. No doubt whatsoever.

STARR: But an Israeli official told CNN: "I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorus is absolutely not being used." Israeli officials insist this is just smoke used to mask Israeli movements on the ground. Home rights activists believe the Israeli Defense Forces are using white phosphorus -- an incendiary material that can badly burn anyone in its path.

FRED ABRAHAMS, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: But in populated, closed areas, as in Gaza, where civilians can be affected from the burning particles, then it raises very, very serious concerns.

STARR: International protocols prohibit the use of incendiary weapons against civilian populations. In this video, it's not clear if the burning material falls on populated areas. In 2005, the U.S. military acknowledged using white phosphorus in Fallujah to flush out insurgents. Now, the Israelis may be using a similar strategy with a different goal.

PIKE: Hamas combatants are going to see all these bright burning particles coming at them. They're going to put their heads down. They're going to stay indoors. And that's going to give the Israel troops tens of seconds in which they can displace, they can move around out in the open.

STARR: Wolf, whatever these weapons are all about, the Israeli Defense Forces insist they abide by all international laws regarding the use of weapons and ammunition.

#From the Thursday, January 13, CNN Newsroom:

RICK SANCHEZ, INTRODUCING THE 3:00 P.M. HOUR: Is Israel using a chemical against Palestinians in Gaza?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These burns are not usual burns, severe, very deep burns.

SANCHEZ: Using white phosphorus against civilians, even combatants, to burn them is against international law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been burning since 1:00 in the morning Nohir Homada tells our cameraman around noon. If you move it with your feet, it reignites. You can't put it out with water, only with sand. This matches the properties of white phosphorus, which ignites on contact with air.

SANCHEZ: Is Israel using white phosphorus? We examine what Palestinians say, what doctors say, what human rights groups say, and what Israeli military officials are saying in response.

...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This resulted from some sort of bomb. These burns are not the usual burns. These are severe. These are very deep.

SANCHEZ: Very deep burns, very nasty injuries, possibly from a very nasty weapon Israel is now being accused of using in Gaza. This is something that may be tough to watch. It burns flesh to the bone. What is white phosphorous? When we come back.

...

SANCHEZ: There's also an important story that's taking place in Gaza. It's about accusations that Israel may be using weapons that international law says they shouldn't use – at least not the way they're accused of using them. This is called white phosphorus. This report is being filed by CNN's Ben Wedeman.

BEN WEDEMAN: Is Israel firing white phosphorus into Gaza? Human Rights Watch says yes, and is backed up by munitions experts. And this, say Palestinian doctors, is the result. Dr. Nafiz Abu Sha'aban says he's been treating burns for 27 years, but says he's never seen anything like these. He says most of the severe burn patients have been sent to Egypt. But because of the fighting, this man, Adil, can't get out.

DR. NAFIZ ABU SHA'ABAN, SHIFA HOSPITAL BURN UNIT: And he was brought to us last night with severe burns on the back, the face, both lower limbs. It's about 47 percent total burned surface area. This resulted from some sort of bombs which might, bombs which contain phosphorus, as we said before, because his burns are not like the usual burns. These are severe. These are very deep burns, with strange heat.

WEDEMAN: White phosphorus is known to burn flesh down to the bone. It's designed to provide illumination or a smokescreen in battle. Under an international protocol ratified by Israel in 1995, such incendiary weapons are allowed when "not specifically designed to cause burn injury to persons."

MARK ELLIS, INTERNATIONAL BAR ASSOCIATION: There's not a, per se, prohibition against using white phosphorus in conflict. But there are significant restrictions as to when it's used and how it's to be used. For instance, it is illegal to use white phosphorus against any personnel – not only civilians, but even legal combatants. So it cannot be directed at personnel. So you're limited to having it directed at military targets.

WEDEMAN: International law says incendiary weapons cannot be used where there is a concentration of civilians – and Gaza is one of the most densely-populated places on Earth. This house north of Gaza City was hit by something Sunday. "It's been burning since 1:00 in the morning," Munir Hammada tells our cameraman around noon. "If you move it with your feet, it reignites. You can't put it out with water, only with sand." This matches the properties of white phosphorus, which ignites on contact with air. Last week, an Israeli official told CNN, "I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorus is absolutely not being used." Now Israeli officials have this response to questions on its use:

MAJOR AVITAL LEIBOVITCH, ISRAELI ARMY SPOKESPERSON: Any munition that Israel is using is with accordance to the international law. Israel does not specify types of munition nor types of operations that it's conducting.

WEDEMAN: The precise extent to which Israel is using white phosphorus is unclear. But the use of such a controversial weapon in the crowded and confined conditions of Gaza is bound to raise questions – questions Israel is, for now, hesitant to answer. Ben Wedeman, CNN, Jerusalem.

SANCHEZ: It sort of makes you ask a lot of questions. Let's do this. Let's go over to our Twitter board, if we can. I think maybe this question is being posed by Nevinews puts it in perspective: "It's not the question of using white phosphorus, it's the question of using it in a dense, civilian populated area." Which is, by the way, pretty true to fact of the way it's written international law. Jim Clancy joining us now. What do you make of this and what have you learned?

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL: Well, it's a big controversy. You know, in anything like this, you always want to refer to an expert. And I have an expert that's there in Israel right now, trying to get into Gaza. He works for Human Rights – Fred Abrahams. And he tells me, no, it's not illegal, but it's wrong to use it in a civilian area. It's a spectacular picture. A Howitzer puts this up. There's an air burst, Rick. And then 116 of these wafers goes down. Even if the guy covers it up with sand, as we saw in Ben Wedeman's report, if they uncover that, it makes renewed contact with the air, it goes off-

SANCHEZ: So it's a chemical. So when we-

CLANCY: But it's not a chemical weapon.

SANCHEZ: It's not a chemical weapon, but it's a chemical.

CLANCY: Right.

SANCHEZ: It's a dangerous chemical.

CLANCY: It's a very dangerous, very horrible injuries.

SANCHEZ: One that international law says you probably shouldn't use in a manner in which it affects either combatants or civilians in any way. In other words, you can use it in a place where you want to change an area or for military strategy, but don't use it on people?

CLANCY: Yes. They say they're using it as an obscurant, which means that it's going to cover their fighters, cover their tanks as they move into some of these areas. Howitzer fire it overhead, the smoke comes down, the phosphorus comes down, moves everybody out of the way. They get out of the way, and then there's smoke to cover their troops' movement.

SANCHEZ: What kind of impact could this have, though, if it continues to be reported, to the point where it is now and you have somebody like Human Watch, human rights groups saying look, there's a problem here, I think they're doing it, even though Israel is saying, no, we're not.

CLANCY: Human rights investigators and the international media are not getting into Gaza right now. So it's not going to be that big of a problem. And, you know, a few points-

SANCHEZ: Well, is that a problem? If you are going to deny-

CLANCY: Well, sure it is.

SANCHEZ: -something and you're not going to-

CLANCY: Sure it is.

SANCHEZ: -allow reporters to go in there and cover it, you're going to be faced with these types of questions.

CLANCY: You know, my friend, Fred Abrahams, pointed something else out. He said, you know, that's the most spectacular story, white phosphorus. The one we should all be looking at – and he said both Israel and Egypt bear some responsibility here – where are the civilians going to get out to? If this noose keeps tightening in Gaza, where do they go? How do they get out? There's no egress routes for any of them. They're trapped in there.

SANCHEZ: Yes, it's a very difficult situation. By the way, before I let you go, do you think this will be over before Barack Obama takes office? Because it's going to be difficult for Israel-

CLANCY: Yes.

SANCHEZ: -to start this new administration with this going on.

CLANCY: As I look at it, come on, we're talking about a week, right?

SANCHEZ: Right.

CLANCY: Rick, they're not out in a week. They have declared they will be out. Israel will likely come forward and say, you know, we want to get this truce done. If they can point a finger at Hamas, yes, they would, you know, have a pass to stay. But I think they'll try to say, we're on our way out. But it's going to not get done by the time Barack Obama stands up there and takes the oath of office.

SANCHEZ: Jim Clancy.We thank you for stopping by, as usual.

#From the Thursday, January 15, CNN Newsroom:

RICK SANCHEZ, TEASING THE 3:00 P.M. HOUR: A story with huge international consequences. The United Nations says Israel fired on one of its buildings in Gaza. And they say they used white phosphorus. What do the Israelis say?

...

Now, let's talk about another problem in "Around the World," this one having to do with Israel. The United Nations today said that Israel has attacked one of its buildings, one of its offices there in Gaza. And they're even going as far as to say, and this might be the more shocking part of this report, at least as far as it's being interpreted, that they may have used white phosphorus in that attack. That would obviously be something that's going to get a lot of reaction around the world. Let's do this first as we look at these pictures, now. Pictures coming in from some of the fighting in Gaza, we understand Ben Wedeman has finally been able to get into Gaza, has been able to file some reports for us, now. Ben, start us off, if you're there, tell us what the situation is. And please, if you have any information at all for us on this white phosphorus accusation being leveled by the U.N., tell us what you know.

BEN WEDEMAN: Well, Rick, I have to tell you, from the start, we spent the entire day just trying to get into Gaza. So I haven't really been following those reports as closely as I would normally be. We got into Rafah just after dark, and we're now in an empty apartment on the outskirts of town. But I'm hearing Israeli jets overhead as we've been hearing them for many hours, actually. And one dropped a bomb about, I'd say maybe half a kilometer from here, and it, really, you could feel the pressure, the shockwave from that, it shook the building, it shook the windows. And this seems to be going on constantly here, these over flights and the occasional bombings. At the moment, where we are, the streets are completely deserted. All the stores are closed. There is electricity in this part of town, but I can see other parts of town are completely dark. And as you know, yes?

SANCHEZ: Is there any sign, Ben, that they're becoming more entrenched in this assault or that they're starting conversely, perhaps, to pull back some?

WEDEMAN: There's no indication of that whatsoever, certainly not here. Now, what residents are telling me is that compared to the last few days, the bombing has been less intense. But, as we've seen those pictures coming from Gaza City, and as we were driving across the Sinai when we stopped in various places to load up with supplies, everybody was watching TV, live Jazeera pictures of intense fighting, intense bombing of Gaza City. So even though it does seem diplomacy is starting to actually have an effect, on the ground it seems the Israelis continue to pursue this offensive. As we heard from Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, at the beginning of this operation, he said they would pursue it, in his words, "to the bitter end."

SANCHEZ: Wow. Ben Wedeman following that story for us there. He's out now, as you can see here, actually in Gaza. We've been hoping that Ben was able to get in. Ben, thanks so much for being with us and try to stay safe, my friend.

WEDEMAN: All right.

SANCHEZ: Jim Clancy joining us now to bring us up to this report that we made moments ago. It's the U.N. saying one of their buildings was attacked by the Israelis, by the IDF. And they're saying or accusing Israel of using white phosphorus. How big a deal is this?

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a big deal on one level because here you have, it's another U.N. installation. Israel is once again saying they fired at us first; somebody was using the compound to fire at us. They've said this in the past. The U.N. is denying that. Who's telling the truth? Impossible to tell. The actual independent observers can't get in there.

SANCHEZ: But let's go through this. First they said that they were using white phosphorus and they denied it. Then they said, then they were accused of using white phosphorus on people and they denied it, and now they're accused of using white phosphorus on the U.N. building. After awhile there starts to be a pattern, there. This is not helpful for Israel around the world, if for no other reason, through perception.

CLANCY: Well, and you've got it right. You look at it here, and obviously they say it's an obscurant, used as an obscurant, meaning a smoke screen. That's fine. Not in a civilian area. When you-

SANCHEZ: All Gaza is civilian – is there anything – is there any pastures in Gaza? Is there any place out there that's not heavily-

CLANCY: No, there's not. When you look at these, and they’re dramatic pictures that come in, and you see all of this, what you have to realize is, as this battle is going on, the Hamas fighters are down in underground tunnels when this stuff is hitting. The people up top are the civilians. And it's going to raise serious questions here, and it's going to raise questions because General Dynamics, a U.S. company, has developed this weapon. And it is said to-

SANCHEZ: Made in America.

CLANCY: Made in America. You've got cases where people say, hey, doesn't this violate the Export Control Act that says you can't use these weapons?

SANCHEZ: Some people will question whether there's not some culpability-

CLANCY: It's a lack and respect of human life, we're seeing right now, by both sides. Not by one side, by both sides.

#From the Thursday, January 15, American Morning on CNN:

JOHN ROBERTS, DURING THE 6:00 A.M. HOUR: Returning to our breaking now, right now a column of black smoke rising over Gaza city as flames race through the United Nations central compound for humanitarian aid. The complex houses food, fuel, medicine and about 700 Palestinians who were seeking refuge from the fighting. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says the incident was a grave mistake. Joining me now on the phone from Gaza city is John Ging. He's the head of operations in Gaza for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Mr. Ging, what's the current situation on the ground there in your complex?

VOICE OF JOHN GING, UNRWA DIRECTOR: The current situation is very, very dangerous, and now we have a fire, and our compound has been hit a number of times this morning under this all night long barrage of artillery and tank fire into this area of Gaza city, which is very densely populated. So they shot one artillery shell and hit one of our buildings where three were injured, and then we are dealing with three more rounds that were fired into the compound, which have caused phosphorus fires.

ROBERTS: Right.

GING: My staff on the ground extremely lucky that they were not injured when those rounds hit into the workshops area, the warehousing area. And now, they're on fire basically and, of course, it's a major problem there because those people should know you can't touch phosphorus with water otherwise it becomes very toxic.

ROBERTS: Right. Yes.

GING: Water doesn't put them out.

ROBERTS: Let me just drill down on that for a second if I could. As we said, Defense Minister Ehud Barak says this was a grave mistake. You claim that it was white phosphorus artillery shells that hit the compound. Phosphorus, as you said, when you pour water on it, the fire just gets worse. The only way to try to put out the fire is to smother it with sand or some other compound. But this idea that they're using white phosphorus shells which will burn anything short of metal and will give extraordinary burns to human beings, all the way down to the bone, any idea why they're using white phosphorus shells in an area like that?

GING: No, that's the question which you might need to put to them. That's the question that you need to course through them. I'm now here at the receiving end. It looks likes phosphorus. It smells like phosphorus, and it's burning like phosphorus. That's all I can say. That's why I'm calling it phosphorus. We're trying to deal with this. Our whole transport compound is on fire, and now that's in danger of spreading into the warehouse with all the food and medicine, thousands of tons of food and medicine. This is a hub of the whole operation, the whole United Nations operation here in Gaza. This is the hub. This is where it all comes to, gets distributed from.

ROBERTS: Right.

GING: We were hugely fortunate this morning that the tankers of fuel, thousands upon thousands, hundreds of thousands bases of fuel ready to be deployed, but they didn't go up at the same time. We have warned the Israelis hour by hour through the night of the vulnerabilities here as the shells came closer and closer and shrapnel was coming into the compound on a regular occasion and nonetheless, we have now been subjected to these direct hits.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, boy, don't know what you can do if you can't even get the emergency equipment there. Best of luck to you, John. We'll keep on following the story this morning.

GING: Thanks a lot.

#From the Thursday, January 15, American Morning on CNN:

KIRAN CHETRY, DURING 7:00 A.M. HOUR: All right, we're coming up on a minute before the top of the hour. And thick black smoke is blanketing Gaza City. It's coming from an inferno at a United Nations relief compound. One U.N. official telling CNN that it was hit with white phosphorus artillery shells. International law forbids using them in densely populated civilian areas. A U.N. spokesman says 700 Palestinians were taking shelter there. Hundreds more could be affected as food and fuel and medicine is burning inside.

#From the Thursday, January 15, American Morning on CNN:

JOHN ROBERTS, DURING 8:00 A.M. HOUR: New pictures to bring you this morning, looking live at Gaza City. This is the United Nations relief and works compound. We had John Ging, who's the director of the relief agency in Gaza, on a little while ago. Apparently what had happened was two or three Israeli artillery shells fell on that compound. According to John Ging, those shells were loaded with phosphorus, which is highly incendiary, it burns in the presence of air. The only way to put it out – you can't put it out with water, that actually makes the fire worse. The only way to put it out is to smother it. Because of all the fighting going on in the area, emergency crews can't get to that compound. A couple of people who were hurt in that attack, which the defense minister on the Israeli side quoted grave mistake. At this point, we don't know the extent of the damage. It was confined to buildings, but John Ging was worried that it was going to spread to the warehouse where a lot of relief supplies, particularly medicines, are being stored. A very grave situation unfolding in Gaza City. You can see just pillars of thick black smoke billowing out of the United Nations relief and works compound after it was hit by Israeli artillery shells, allegedly containing white phosphorus.

#From the Monday, January 12, Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN:

ANDERSON COOPER: Nic joins us again live. Nic, just on the white phosphorus charges, a military is allowed to use white phosphorus on the battlefield for illumination purposes, not against individuals. Is that correct? Am I wrong?

NIC ROBERTSON: No, that's absolutely correct. And that's what Israeli officials are saying. They're saying, we have got the same ammunitions in our weaponry that, for example, NATO forces, U.S. forces have. And we know that, for example, in the Fallujah operation in Iraq in 2004, U.S. troops used white phosphorus for illumination. It's when it falls to the ground, before it fully burns out, that it causes these types of casualties.