On 15 January, at least three IDF white phosphorus shells struck the main compound of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in central Gaza City, injuring three people and starting fires that destroyed four buildings and destroyed more than $3.7 million in medical supplies. According to two witnesses, IDF began firing shells that appear to be white phosphorus at about 3 a.m. about 600 meters north of the school. Nimr al-Maqusi, 50, an unemployed civil servant who lives opposite the school, said he saw shells exploding over northern Beit Layiha every few minutes. “Wherever the shell parts landed, fires suddenly ignited,” he recalled, suspecting the shells were coming from the southeast.  Yusuf Daoud, 45, an unemployed electrician who lives on the same street, also across the street from the school, observed the same explosions. In another interview, he told Human Rights Watch: “None of us at home slept. We were all afraid of bombing.  A report by the Israeli Ministry of Health assesses the medical risks of white phosphorus equally clearly. Entitled “White Phosphorus Exposure,” the report states that “phosphorus can cause serious injury and death if it comes into contact with the skin, is inhaled or swallowed.” Because it is highly fat-soluble, it quickly penetrates the skin from the surface or from an embedded fragment. Most tissue damage is caused by the heat that accompanies the prolonged oxidation of phosphorus and by the product of oxidation – phosphoric acid.
The report also mentions the “systemic poisoning” that can result: a Human Rights Watch official traveled to Sderot the next day to investigate, but local authorities said they were unaware of the attack. A Sderot resident said he heard of a mortar shell, possibly containing white phosphorus, landing in a field outside the city, but he didn`t know where. When asked for details, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told Human Rights Watch, “All I have is what the press release says.”  Phosphorus was discovered in 1669 by Henning Brandt, an alchemist from Hamburg. White phosphorus has been used since the First World War both as an incendiary agent and to create smoke screens or smoke signals. Munitions containing white phosphorus were widely used during World War II, the Vietnam War and the Korean War, including as an anti-personnel weapon. ICRC, Weapons likely to cause unnecessary suffering or indiscriminate effects, Report of Experts, Geneva, 1973, § 188. The use of white phosphorus as a weapon in densely populated areas is even more problematic. Human Rights Watch found no evidence that Israeli forces fired white phosphorus at hardened military targets such as Palestinian fighters in bunkers, but it may have blown white phosphorus into the air due to its incendiary effects. Fired by artillery and air blast to maximize impact range, white phosphorus munitions do not have the same lethal effect as high-explosive shells, but are just as indiscriminate. Palestinian and foreign doctors who treated burn victims told Human Rights Watch of intense and very deep burns. On some occasions, the wounds have started to burn again during cleaning, which corresponds to white phosphorus, which becomes inflamed on contact with oxygen. “For the first time, I see strange types of burns, very deep to the bone,” a doctor at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City told Human Rights Watch.
“And they cause a bacterial infection like anything else.” Due to the high weight efficiency of WP smoke, it is particularly suitable for applications where weight is severely limited, such as hand grenades and mortar bombs. Another advantage of portable smoke grenades, which are more likely to be used in an emergency, is that WP smoke clouds form in a fraction of a second. Since WP is also pyrophoric, most munitions of this type have a simple bursting charge to split the envelope and spray fragments of WP into the air, where they ignite spontaneously and leave a trail of smoke that thickens rapidly behind each particle. The appearance of this cloud formation is easy to recognize; You can see a shower of burning particles pulverizing outwards, followed closely by striking jets of white smoke that quickly merge into a fluffy, very pure white cloud (unless illuminated by a colored light source). But like all weapons, it is illegal to be used against civilian targets, and the use of air-dropped incendiary weapons in populated areas is prohibited by Protocol III, Johnson said. The Times of London first reported on the use of white phosphorus in Gaza on January 5. The next day, an IDF spokesperson contacted by Human Rights Watch first said that the IDF used white phosphorus to mark targets, then denied that white phosphorus had been used.  He claimed that the media had mistakenly identified a grenade used to mark targets as white phosphorus. Media denials continued. On January 7, an IDF spokesperson told CNN, “I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorus is absolutely not used.”  The League of Arab States` Independent Investigative Committee on Gaza found “that white phosphorus was used as an incendiary weapon in densely populated areas,” that “weapons used by the IDF, especially white phosphorus, caused unnecessary and unnecessary suffering.” The committee concluded that “although white phosphorus and darts are not explicitly prohibited by humanitarian law, it is highly doubtful that their use in densely populated civilian areas constitutes an indiscriminate attack and therefore a war crime.” S/2009/537 of 14 October 2009, §§ 9, 22, 472.
See also §§ 488-9. Human Rights Watch examined two shell casings of bright white green 155mm phosphorus cartridges in the hospital director`s office. Hospital officials said one of the shells was removed from the top floor of the hospital`s main building and another fell next to the hospital. The tops of the shells were blown away and the marks removed, but the shells were clearly the same as the other white phosphorus shells Human Rights Watch found across Gaza, with their characteristic light green color. All white phosphorus shells found by Human Rights Watch in Gaza are from the same batch, manufactured in the United States, and are inscribed: THS89D112-003 155MM M825E1. THS89D is the manufacturer`s identification code indicating that the shells and their contents were manufactured in April 1989 by Thiokol Aerospace, which at the time operated the Louisiana Army Munitions Factory. 112-003 are the interfix and sequence numbers indicating that several batches of the same ammunition were produced simultaneously; 155mm represents the caliber of the artillery shell. M825E1 is the U.S. military designation for an older remanufactured M825 white phosphorus shell that has been upgraded to the current M825A1 standard.  White phosphorus is a waxy, often yellowish or colorless chemical that some people say smells like garlic.