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Israel accused of using flechette weapons on Palestinian civilians

Published time: July 21, 2014 22:02
An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires towards the Gaza Strip July 21, 2014 (Reuters / Nir Elias)

An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires towards the Gaza Strip July 21, 2014 (Reuters / Nir Elias)

The Israeli military has been accused of using flechette shells during its offensive in Gaza, which can cause widespread harm and death to civilians. The weapons, though legal in Israel and internationally, have been slammed as inhumane by rights groups.

The munitions are normally fired by tanks and contain thousands of small darts, which are released when the shell explodes in midair. The flechette shells are only four centimeters in length.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) reported that Israel has already used six shells, which were fired towards the village of Khuzaa in the Gaza Strip. Nahla Khalil Najjar, a 37 year-old women, suffered injuries to her chest, it said. PCHR provided a picture of flechettes taken by a fieldworker last week, the Guardian reported.

The Israel Defense Forces have not denied using the shells during the two week long conflict. "As a rule, the IDF only employs weapons that have been determined lawful under international law, and in a manner which fully conforms with the laws of armed conflict," a spokesman for the Israeli army stated.

The shells are not illegal under international humanitarian law, while the internet site, electronicintifada, which champions the Palestinian cause, reports that Israel has been using the munitions since March 2000. Flechette shells were declared legal by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2002.

Flechette shell (Reuters / Andrea Comas)

However, a 2011 report by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem described them as carrying “a particularly high danger of harming innocent civilians”. The group describes the explosives as ‘an anti-personal’ weapon. Once fired the metal darts can disperse in a conical arch 300 meters long and about 90 meters wide. Therefore they can cause widespread civilian casualties if used in a built up area, such as Gaza.

B'Tselem added, "other rules of humanitarian law render their use in the Gaza Strip illegal. One of the most fundamental principles is the obligation to distinguish between those who are involved and those who are not involved in the fighting, and to avoid to the extent possible injury to those who are not involved. Deriving from this principle is the prohibition of the use of an imprecise weapon which is likely to result in civilian injuries."

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry was overheard on Sunday expressing what appeared to be pointed concern over the deaths of civilians during an Israeli offensive in Gaza.

In a conversation caught on an open microphone before an interview, Kerry made what seemed to be a sarcastic remark about Israel's insistence it was doing its utmost to avoid civilian casualties in operations against Hamas militants.

"It's a hell of a pinpoint operation. It's a hell of a pinpoint operation," he said during the call, which was broadcast on Fox News Sunday.

On Sunday, more than 60 Palestinians, including women and children, were killed as Israel shelled a Gaza neighborhood and battled militants. Thirteen Israeli soldiers also were killed.

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