Thursday, February 05, 2009

"Army Won't Confirm or Deny Sale of Arsenal's Phosphorus to Israel" -- Amy Riggin -- Pine Bluff Commercial

Portion below; whole thing (via Mark Jensen at PLU):
A brief review of arms sales notifications revealed that billions of dollars worth of military weapons and equipment had been sold to Israel over the past few years. Those sales included a variety of items, from an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Aircraft to GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs to Harpoon and Sidewinder missiles.

However, a search for “white phosphorous” yielded nothing except a chapter from a document dated Oct. 3, 2003, titled “Foreign Military Sales Program — General Information.” Contained in that chapter is language stating “...and requests must also contain assurance from the host Government that white phosphorous munitions are used only for purposes such as signaling and smoke screening.”

In a Jan. 6 statement to The Commercial, Col. Bill Barnett, arsenal commander, described the arsenal as “a world leader in the design, manufacture and refurbishment of smoke, riot control and incendiary munitions, as well as chemical/biological defense operations items.” He said the arsenal produces a “variety of smoke, illuminating and non-lethal munitions to include white phosphorous filled munitions ranging from 60 mm to 175 mm, red phosphorous [such as smoke screening grenades], colored smoke munitions, etc.”

In June 2005, a fire at the arsenal destroyed a warehouse containing 7,500 canisters of white phosphorous. Arsenal officials determined that the fire was caused by a leaking canister. In a June 8, 2005, interview with The Commercial, spokeswoman Raini Brunson said the arsenal is the Army’s sole producer of white phosphorous ammunition in the Western Hemisphere.

Use as a weapon

Media reports have included interviews from patients and hospital officials in Gaza who say the white phosphorous is being used as a weapon. A Jan. 22 New York Times article featured an interview with a Gaza family, the only surviving member claiming that her home was hit by an Israeli white phosphorous shell that burned the rest of her family to death and injured her severely.

Human rights organizations have been up in arms over the claims because targeting civilians with white phosphorous is banned by an international convention. The Israeli government has maintained that it was used legally.

British-based newspaper The Times reported in a Jan. 12 article that white phosphorous shells being fired by Israelis were indeed from the arsenal, as indicated by the lot number that was visible in a photograph. “The lot number ... indicates that the shells being used by the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] were assembled in September 1991 at Pine Bluff Arsenal in America, where all U.S. white phosphorous munitions are reportedly made,” the report stated. The Times reported that Chamberlain Manufacturing, General Dynamics and Ordnance & Tactical Systems were the contractors.

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