I recall walking down the isles of the Shifa hospital in Gaza City hearing Dr Attallah speak of the horrendous injuries and deaths he had witnessed during his recent years working there. Little was ever proven, little was ever written about it, but he had seen with his own eyes what could only be the used of some unknown chemical weapon. Others have espoused that Israel uses Gaza as testing ground for newly developed weapons. Just over a year ago Haaretz ran a piece on an Italian investigative team who had issued a report after identifying irregular injuries in the Shifa hospital in Gaza. James Brooks from Aljazeera added this in depth report shortly thereafter.
This letter in the Guardian yesterday speaks of such things. Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor (Response, November 30) denies Israel used chemical weapons in Gaza. Claims and counterclaims about the use of such weapons have a long history and are often hard to verify. Mr Prosor's denial must be judged against the reports by health workers in Gaza of injured Palestinians suffering from "severe convulsions, muscle spasms, vomiting, amnesia or partial memory loss" after exposure to Israeli gas attacks (multiple references available). Last year the IDF fired powerful gases at a peaceful joint Palestinian and Israeli demonstration against the wall being driven through B'lin, a village in the occupied West Bank. My colleagues and I were able to obtain a sample of the munition. It contained a powerful irritant derived from capsaicin (the analysis was published in the international peer-reviewed journal Medicine, Conflict and Survival in October last year).
Claims that the IDF used white phosphorus in the Lebanon war last year were initially denied. They were finally admitted by the Israeli minister Jacob Edery in October 2006. White phosphorus causes intense burns and generates choking fumes. I suspect the Israeli government is basing its denials on a technical quibble about whether the chemicals concerned are explicitly banned in international law - to which, anyhow, it is not a signatory.
Professor Steven Rose