Dr. Ghassan Abu-Sittah claims Israel’s goal is to “ethnically cleanse” Palestinians from the Gaza Strip.
Professor Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a London-based reconstructive plastic surgeon, told reporters on Monday during a press conference at London’s International Centre of Justice for Palestine that he treated phosphorus gas burn victims in Gaza.
“I had treated white phosphorus burns in the Gaza Strip during the 2009 war – it was very familiar with the very characteristic injuries and burns that they make,” he said, recounting his time at a series of Gazan hospitals, including Al Shifa, a prominent target of Israel’s ground offensive.
Abu-Sittah arrived in Gaza on October 9 with Doctors Without Borders and left on November 19.
White phosphorus can chemically and thermally burn a person down to the bone upon contact. Upon entry into the bloodstream, it can also result in organ failure. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), its use in densely populated areas can be considered a war crime, given its indiscriminate nature. On October 12, HRW released a report saying they had seen verified videos, “showing multiple airbursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus over the Gaza City port and two rural locations along the Israel-Lebanon border.”
“The current accusation made against the [Israel Forces] regarding the use of white phosphorus in Gaza is unequivocally false,” Israel said in response.
In another interview with the Telegraph, when asked if the 2008 to 2009 Gaza War, in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed in 22 days, was comparable to Israel’s latest campaign, Abu-Sittah said, “This was a tsunami and the other wars were just floods. There is no doubt in my mind that the end goal is to ethnically cleanse Gaza.”
The latest Palestinian Ministry of Health currently estimates the death toll in Gaza stands at over 20,000 people. Over 4,100 casualties are reported to be women with over 8,100 more being children.
During his 43-day experience at the heart of Israel’s targets in Gaza, Abu-Sittah documented the nightmarish ordeal of treating patients amid phosphorus use.
“Israelis increasingly using phosphorus bombs. Treated a 13 year old yesturday [sic] with distinctive phosphorus burns to both legs and thighs,” he tweeted on October 29.
He also spoke to the dire shortages medical workers faced amid an Israeli-imposed aid and fuel embargo. In one Tweet, he said doctors reverted to using regular soap, rather than antiseptic, to clean burn victims. In another, he said shop-bought vinegar was being used to treat infected wounds.
Israel repeatedly denies culpability
After the Gaza War in March 2009, HRW published evidence detailing Israel’s usage of white phosphorus gas in Lebanon and Gaza.
“The [Israeli forces] use indirect-fire systems to launch white phosphorus munitions, meaning that the firing unit does not see the target, but relies on spotters to provide targeting information,” the report said.
“HRW researchers found the remnants of both in Gaza, many of them in residential areas,” the report continued.
Initially, Israel denied HRW’s claims that it was using phosphorus gas usage in Gaza then but later reneged and instead said their use of any weaponry was always “in compliance with international law.”
As per Protocol III of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs’ Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, “the use of weapons primarily designed to set fire to objects or cause burn injuries against civilians” is prohibited.
Professor Abu-Sittah is later expected to give a testimony to the UK’s New Scotland Yard to provide evidence of Israel’s “genocidal war crimes,” including the prohibited use of phosphorus gas.