LONDON - Israel is using white phosphorus shells in its offensive on the Gaza Strip, the Times newspaper reported on Thursday, citing photographic evidence despite Israeli denials.
The daily said it had identified stockpiles of white phosphorus (WP) shells from photographs taken of Israel artillery units on the border with Gaza this week.
The report said Palestinian citizens had suffered burns caused by the weapons.
"The use of WP against civilians is prohibited under international law," the newspaper noted. It said it had identified pale blue shells marked with the designation M825A1 as a US-made WP munition.
Phosphorus ignites on contact with oxygen and, according to the Times, is being used by the Israeli military to create smokescreens to allow its ground forces to operate.
Medics in Gaza told the newspaper they had been struggling to treat patients with unusual burns, which they suspected had been caused by white phosphorus.
"The burns are very unusual. They don't look like burns we have normally seen. They are third-level burns that we can't seem to control," the Times quoted medic Muhammad Azayzeh, 28, as saying in Gaza City.
It cited an Israeli military spokeswoman as insisting the M825A1 identified by the paper was not a WP shell: "This is what we call a quiet shell -- it is empty, it has no explosives and no white phosphorus. There is nothing inside it.
"We shoot it to mark the target before we launch a real shell. We launch two or three of the quiet shells which are empty so that the real shells will be accurate. It's not for killing people."
But Neil Gibson of Jane's Missiles and Rockets told the Times that the M825A1 was a WP round.
"The WP does not fill the shell but is impregnated into 116 felt wedges which, once dispersed (by a high-explosive charge), start to burn within four to five seconds.
"They then burn for five to ten minutes. The smokescreen produced is extremely effective," he said.