GAZA CITY, June 8 (IRIN) - The UN Mine Action Team (UNMAT) in Gaza
has completed the destruction of white phosphorus ordnance left over from the Israeli “Cast Lead” military operation in the Gaza Strip between December 2008 and January 2009.
“The most common unexploded ordnance [UXOs] found in Gaza are mortars, rockets, bombs, white phosphorus canisters and mines, such as M-15 anti-tank mines,” Sheila Black, UNMAT’s support specialist, told IRIN in Gaza City
. For more than a year, UNMAT has assessed the contamination threat in Gaza’s 1,642, mostly residential, sites, Black said. Since the end of the Israeli operation, more than 44 casualties - including 10 deaths - were believed to be UXO-related.
UNMAT uncovered 355 UXOs, including 71 M-15 anti-tank mines and 63 fragments of white phosphorus, as well as 2,100 rounds of small-arms ammunition. Additional white phosphorus munitions were handed over by the local authorities.
White phosphorus reacts with oxygen and “once in contact with air, it burns very hot, very quickly and very deeply on any substance it touches, including the human body”, said Mark Russell, UNMAT’s operations officer. Commonly used in smoke, tracer and illumination munitions, it can also cause serious burns or death.