Friday, January 16, 2009

UN headquarters hit by white phosphorus shells

CBC : Israeli forces opened fire on the United Nations headquarters in Gaza City Thursday, setting the compound ablaze and destroying tonnes of humanitarian aid meant for victims of the 20-day conflict.
"It's a total disaster for us," said John Ging, director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, whose compound was providing refuge to about 700 Palestinian civilians at the time of the attack."

The UNWRA provides food and aid to over a million Palestinian refugees in Gaza.

Times Online : "The Israeli forces were attacked from there and their response was severe," Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister, told the UN chief, according to a statement released by his office.
"We do not want such incidents to take place and I am sorry for it but I don’t know if you know, but Hamas fired from the UNRWA site. This is a sad incident and I apologise for it."

Ging dismissed the claim as "nonsense."

A UN spokesman said that the building had been hit by shells containing the incendiary agent white phosphorus : "You can’t put out white phosphorus with traditional methods such as fire extinguishers. You need sand, we don’t have sand."

The Israeli military has denied using white phosphorus shells in the Gaza offensive, although an investigation by The Times has revealed that dozens of Palestinians in Gaza have sustained serious injuries from the substance, which burns at extremely high temperatures."

Three hospitals and the Reuters news bureau were also hit.

I do hope the folks at the new Israel Foreign Affairs special PR task force are writing all this down.

3 comments:

NBDUDE said...

Did any body notice that this happened after the UN resolution (or whatever its called)against Israel. Did the strike in Lebanon that killed the Canadian happen after some kind of UN statement? Just wondering if they are sending a message? Bomb them, we can always apologize later!

Oemissions said...

A kabbore.!

sunsin said...

Technical note to cover up a misunderstanding that actually diminishes the horror of this story.

White phosphorous does not burn at a very high temperature. In fact, it burns at a very low temperature, for a burning thing (more than enough to destroy human flesh, though). That's one of the problems with its use. If you are hit with a substantial amount of something that burns hotter, say, napalm, you have a good chance of getting lucky and dying almost immediately of shock. No such luck if you get hit by white phosphorous.

The second and grimmer fact is that white phosphorous is pyrophoric; that is, it ignites itself in air in normal temperatures. This means that you can't put it out. It is going to burn until it is all burnt, unless you can reduce the temperature below its ignition point and scrape it off whatever it has hit. Since its ignition point is rather close to body heat, you can see the problem. This is also why the story mentions needing sand to put it "out" -- what they are actually doing with the sand is denying air to the phosphorous, so that it can be removed later.

So, it burns at a low temperature, and it never goes out. I think you can imagine what it does to human targets.

My Grade 6 teacher saw a shipmate hit by white phosphorous at sea during World War II. With great presence of mind, the victim immediately committed suicide by jumping off the ship into the freezing waters of the North Sea, to die with the minimum of pain.

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