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Terrorist Organizations in the Gaza Strip Use Phosphorus 120-mm Mortar Shells

The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center

November 28, 2010


1. On November 19, a phosphorus-containing mortar shell was fired at Israel 
from the Gaza Strip. It was part of an unusual attack consisting of four 
rockets and seven mortar shells, which may have been fired in response to 
the killing of Islam Yassin, an Army of Islam operative who was planning to 
abduct Israelis in the Sinai Peninsula. The Israeli Foreign Minister 
instructed the Israeli ambassador to the UN to submit a complaint to the UN 
Secretary General and to the Security Council chairman (Israel's Foreign 
Ministry website, November 19, 2010).

2. In a previous incident which took place on the morning of September 15, 
2010, one day after the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, terrorist organizations in 
the Gaza Strip fired an exceptional number of rockets and mortar shells at 
Israel (about 10 rockets).1 The mortar shells landed in the Eshkol Regional 
Council territory. At least two of them were 120-mm mortar shells which 
contained white phosphorus.2 No casualties or damage were reported.

3. Terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip have used phosphorus-containing 
mortar shells before. In Operation Cast Lead, a number of such mortar shells 
were fired on IDF forces, probably by Hamas. Prior to these two incidents, 
however, terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip avoided making 
routine use of such mortar shells.

Implications of the phosphorus mortar shell fire
4. A phosphorus shell is a mortar shell based onwhite phosphorus. The 
phosphorus ignites on contact with oxygen. The shell continues to burn as 
long as the ignition substance inside remains in contact with oxygen. 
Phosphorus shells are mostly used to hit exposed infantry, create smoke 
screens, and obstruct visibility for forces on the ground.

5. The collateral damage caused by phosphorus-containing mortar shells is 
relatively small compared to regular explosive mortar shells; however, they 
may have a major negative impact on morale. On contact with the human body, 
the phosphorus may cause extensive burns and even damage to internal organs. 
The shells can also cause fires and set crops on fire.

Terrorist organizations' reaction to charges of using phosphorus shells
6. In the two incidents, Hamas denied using phosphorus-containing mortar 

    a. Hamas administration spokesman Taher al-Nunu claimed that Foreign 
Minister Lieberman’s remarks on the use of phosphorus shells were untrue. He 
said they were designed to cast the “resistance” (i.e., the terrorist 
organizations) in a negative light and provide an excuse for Israel’s own 
use of such ammunition (Al-Quds TV, November 20, 2010).

    b. Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri claimed that no “phosphorus bombs” had been 
fired at Israel and that Israel was making an attempt to justify its 
intensifying military operations against the Gaza Strip and divert public 
opinion on the international scene (Palestine-info, September 15, 2010).

    c. On the other hand, an Al-Jazeera reporter said that the use of 
phosphorus was hardly a surprise. Al-Jazeera crew doing a research piece on 
the activity of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades (the Hamas military wing) 
had discovered that they recycled white phosphorus from Israeli shells found 
in the Gaza Strip and stored it in the Gaza Strip, apparently for future use 
(Al-Jazeera, September 16, 2010).

* * * * * * *
1. Following up on the re-launch of direct negotiations in Washington on 
September 14, a summit was held in Sharm el-Sheikh between Israel’s PM 
Benjamin Netanyahu and PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The summit was also 
attended by Egypt’s President Mubarak, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary 
Clinton, and U.S. special envoy George Mitchell.

2. Following are technical details on the 120-mm phosphorus mortar shell: 
warhead—white phosphorus, a substance which spontaneously ignites on contact 
with oxygen and creates a smoke screen; diameter—120 mm; length—about 60 cm 
(2 feet); weight—about 13 kg (29 lbs.); range—about 6 km (4 mi).