Israel accused of using white phosphorus in Gaza

JERUSALEM, Jan 10 (Reuters) - A leading human rights group on Saturday accused Israel of using white-phosphorus munitions during its offensive in the Gaza Strip and warned of the risk to civilians near the fighting.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that its researchers in Israel observed multiple air-bursts on Jan. 9 and Jan. 10 of artillery-fired white phosphorus near the city of Gaza and the Jabalya refugee camp.

The group said Israel appeared to be using white phosphorus to hide military operations -- "a permissible use in principle under international humanitarian law".

"However, white phosphorus has a significant, incidental, incendiary effect that can severely burn people and set structures, fields, and other civilian objects in the vicinity on fire. The potential for harm to civilians is magnified by Gaza's high population density, among the highest in the world," Human Rights Watch said.

It called on Israel to stop the practice.

An Israeli army spokesman had no immediate comment.