Saturday December 1, 2007
"Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor (Response, November 30) denies Israel used chemical weapons in Gaza. Claims and counterclaims about the use of such weapons have a long history and are often hard to verify. Mr Prosor's denial must be judged against the reports by health workers in Gaza of injured Palestinians suffering from "severe convulsions, muscle spasms, vomiting, amnesia or partial memory loss" after exposure to Israeli gas attacks (multiple references available). Last year the IDF fired powerful gases at a peaceful joint Palestinian and Israeli demonstration against the wall being driven through B'lin, a village in the occupied West Bank. My colleagues and I were able to obtain a sample of the munition. It contained a powerful irritant derived from capsaicin (the analysis was published in the international peer-reviewed journal Medicine, Conflict and Survival in October last year).
Claims that the IDF used white phosphorus in the Lebanon war last year were initially denied. They were finally admitted by the Israeli minister Jacob Edery in October 2006. White phosphorus causes intense burns and generates choking fumes. I suspect the Israeli government is basing its denials on a technical quibble about whether the chemicals concerned are explicitly banned in international law - to which, anyhow, it is not a signatory.
Professor Steven Rose