Israel using flechette shells in Gaza
Legality of the munitions was upheld by supreme court in 2002
More than 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed yesterday as Israel shelled a Gaza neighbourhood and battled militants in the bloodiest fighting in a near two-week-old offensive. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
The Israeli military is using flechette shells, which spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal metal darts, in its operation in Gaza.
Six flechette shells were fired towards the village of Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis, on July 17th, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. Nahla Khalil Najjar (37) suffered injuries to her chest, it said. PCHR provided a picture of flechettes taken by a fieldworker last week.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) did not deny using the shells in the 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 spokesperson said in response to a request for specific comment on the deployment of flechettes.
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, describes a flechette shell as “an anti-personnel weapon that is generally fired from a tank. The shell explodes in the air and releases thousands of metal darts 37.5mm in length, which disperse in a conical arch 300 metres long and about 90 metres wide”.
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.”
The legality of flechette munitions was upheld by the Israeli supreme court in 2002, and according to an Israeli military source, they are particularly effective against enemy fighters operating in areas covered by vegetation.
The source said a number of armies around the world deploy flechette shells, and that they were intended solely for use against legitimate military targets in accordance with international law.
The IDF has deployed flechette shells in Gaza and Lebanon before. B’Tselem has documented the deaths of nine Palestinians in Gaza from flechettes in 2001 and 2002. Flechettes have also killed and wounded dozens of civilians, including women and children, in conflicts between Israel and Hizbullah in Lebanon.
Human Rights Watch said its use of the munitions in Operation Cast Lead was indiscriminate and evidence of war crimes.
– (Guardian service)