Israel's Haaretz daily newspaper quoted Yakov Edery, the minister for government-paramilitary relations, as saying that the Israeli army used phosphorus shells "in attacks against military targets in open ground".

 

A spokeswoman for Edery confirmed the report to AFP news agency, saying that Edery was reading the army's response to a query from another Israeli politician.

 

"This is not his personal opinion, this is what the military told us," said Orly Yechzeken.

 

Edery said in his statement that the army maintains that phosphorus shells are a legitimate weapon and not forbidden by international law.

 

"The IDF used this type of munitions according to the rules of  international law," Edery is quoted as saying by Haaretz news agency.

 

Previous claims

 

White phosphorus munitions can cause severe burns and agonising deaths for its victims, leading to demands from many human rights organisations to classify it as a chemical weapon.

 

The International Red Cross and other human rights groups have long argued that phosphorus weapons should be banned under the chemical weapons convention.   

 

Several media outlets during the recent conflict in Lebanon alleged that civilians had been seen with injuries consistent with contact with white phosphorous.

 

Emile Lahoud, the Lebanese president, also claimed that the IDF made use of phosphorus munitions against civilians in Lebanon. 

 

Last year officials from the Pentagon acknowledged that US troops had used white phosphorous as a weapon during the battle for Falluja in November 2004, but denied it had been used on civilians.