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Irish peacekeepers observe Israel use white phosphorus

Civic leaders in southern Lebanon have raised fears for the safety of civilians due to the use by Israel of the chemical weapon white phosphorus along the border between Israel and Lebanon.

Irish peacekeepers in Lebanon say they have observed the weapon being deployed in the region and are taking precautions to protect their troops.

The Israeli Defence Forces have been using the chemical to burn away thick vegetation used by Hezbollah fighters as cover to launch rocket attacks from South Lebanon into Israel.

White phosphorus ignites instantly upon contact with oxygen, it burns at 800C and is very difficult to extinguish.

The smoke from burning phosphorus is also toxic, harming the eyes and respiratory tract due to the presence of phosphoric acid.

The commander of the Irish and Polish peacekeepers working with UNIFIL in south Lebanon Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Mac Eoin

During a meeting today with the commander of the Irish and Polish Battalion in the town of Tibnin, close to the border in southern Lebanon, Mayor Nabil Assad Fawaz said the chemical has destroyed agriculture in the area.

“Everything children touch or eat, not only children, everyone, in every piece of land, wherever you have white phosphorus, its an assassination … We have to stop this from happening,” he said.

The commander of the Irish and Polish peacekeepers working with UNIFIL in south Lebanon Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Mac Eoin said his troops have observed the use by Israel of white phosphorus, particularly in recent months.

Lt Col Mac Eoin said: “In the months of November, December and January there was quite an amount of white phosphorus used closer to the blue line.”

“Our assessment was that the white phosphorus was essentially used as a defoliant, to deny the use of the terrain to non-state actors such as Hezbollah.

“It’s quite a nasty munition, it has the effect of causing fire, and on occasion unfortunately it has entered in to some of the UNIFIL positions and caused damage as well.”

“It is a particularly nasty agent, people might be familiar during the Vietnam War with napalm, so its of a similar constitution, its as if a liquid plastic were to land on your skin, it reacts with the oxygen and unfortunately will keep burning right down to the bone” he added.

Irish soldiers serving with the UN have cast their ballots in the family and care referendums which will take place next week

Lt Col Mac Eoin said he would speak to his senior officers in the UN to let them know about the concerns being raised by the mayor.

“There is an international treaty on the use of white phosphorus to which Ireland is a signatory, but many Western countries are not part of that.”

“My job here is to observe, monitor and report, and we will very truthfully and without any issue point out, as we have already pointed out, that we have evidence of those munitions being used in this theatre,” he said.

Lt Col Mac Eoin added that UNIFIL troops, including more than 330 Irish soldiers, in south Lebanon are trained in the use of respirators and regularly rehearse scenarios to deal with the threat posed by white phosphorus.

Meanwhile, at Camp Shamrock, Irish soldiers serving with the UN cast their ballots in the family and care referendums which will take place next week.

Every soldier was issued with a ballot paper and they queued up this morning to vote.

The ballot papers will be flown back to Ireland tomorrow and will be counted, along with the rest of the ballot papers, on Saturday 9 March.


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Watch: On patrol with Irish peacekeepers in Lebanon



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