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Did Kiev use white phosphorous in civilian areas? Expert comments on latest video

Published time: July 26, 2014 20:13

A private house at the outskirts of Donetsk destroyed by Ukrainian Army's shelling. (RIA Novosti/Mikhail Voskresenskiy)

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Footage presented by self-defense forces in eastern Ukraine as alleged proof of Kiev's use of white phosphorous bombs shows many characteristics of the forbidden explosive, former British army officer Charles Shoebridge told RT.

Rebels are claiming that the Ukrainian army fired white phosphorus bombs, which are banned under international law, during its latest shelling of the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow also says it has proof that the Ukrainian military has used the controversial weapon on at least six different occasions.

Russia’s Defense Ministry claims there were a number of indicators that line up with the use of phosphorous bombs, including the temperature at which the bombs burnt and the speed at which the they fell.

Though the video cannot be verified, RT asked Charles Shoebridge, former counter-terrorism intelligence officer and Scotland Yard detective, for his expert opinion on the footage.

RT: The video can’t be verified, but the anti-Kiev fighters say it shows the Ukrainian army shelling Donetsk with phosphorous bombs. Can you comment on that claim?

Charles Shoebridge: I’ve seen a video earlier. Although it’s shot at some considerable distance away, it has to be said that it shows many of the characteristics one would associate with white phosphorus use.
In particular, it looks like it’s an air burst device that’s being delivered by mortar or artillery or, perhaps, an aircraft. It covers quite some substantial area, as you can see, by the time it reaches the ground. And also you’ve got these very characteristic features of breaking into very small, very bright burning particles – as indeed military spokespeople elsewhere have commented on, in their right to do so – that it falls very quickly to the ground.

Phosphorous can be used as an illuminant, as indeed can many other substances. But usually these will fall to the ground much more slowly, assisted by some sort of parachute so, of course, that the light can burn for much longer and assist troops on the ground. That doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Also, while phosphorous can be used and usually is used for producing smoke to cover the movement of troops...here of course it’s night. And, although, you cannot see smoke on this video, that might well be because its night, of course. And smoke would be normally characteristic of white phosphorous.

RT: Why are these kinds of bombs banned under international law? Is the damage they inflict particularly grim?

CS: The law governing the use of white phosphorous is actually quite complex. You are right to say they are banned in some circumstances. And those circumstances are particularly when they are being used in areas...first of all, of course, they are banned as weapons to be used against civilian targets. That’s clear.

Secondly, in some circumstances they’re banned when they are used against military targets in civilian areas. As I said, that law governing this particular device is complicated. For example, it is also said that it is a device that is used mainly for producing smoke and for signaling, and that has an incendiary effect. But is not classed as an incendiary weapon.

But the fact is that whatever the technicalities of the law state, really, the situation is that it is a fearsome device. White phosphorus would burn an intense heat, would burn right through to the bone. It cannot be put out by using water. If civilians are in the area, it is almost certain to cause widespread damage as well as fear and, of course, very serious injuries.

No matter what people say, that it’s used as signaling, as smoke, or as an illuminant, the fact is that armies around the world – and last time we saw Israel in Gaza – are using white phosphorous as an incendiary weapon. It is a very effective weapon to use.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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