Flechette shells: is their use by Israel legal?

Israel accused of using imprecise 'flechette shells', which shower a target with tiny steel darts

Israeli troops with artillery shells waiting to be fired into Gaza
(Image credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Israel stands accused of using deadly flechette shells in Gaza, a weapon described as illegal under "rules of humanitarian law" by one Israeli human rights organisation.

According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), the shells, which shower thousands of tiny darts over a given area, were fired on the village of Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis, on 17 July, The Guardian reports.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) did not deny using the weapon, but claimed that all munitions it is using in the Gaza conflict are legal. "As a rule, the IDF only employs weapons that have been determined lawful under international law, and in a manner which fully conforms with the laws of armed conflict," a spokesperson said.

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Flechette shells are usually fired by a tank and are designed to explode in the air over a target, showering it with thousands of tiny steel darts around 4cm (1.57 ins) long.

The shells have been used by the IDF before in Gaza, and were ruled to be legal by the Israeli supreme court in 2002. But B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, says that while they are not expressly forbidden under international humanitarian law the shells carry "a particularly high danger of harming innocent civilians".

Consequently, their use in Gaza must be considered illegal, B'Tselem says, because "one of the most fundamental principles is the obligation to distinguish between those who are involved and those who are not involved in the fighting, and to avoid to the extent possible injury to those who are not involved. Deriving from this principle is the prohibition of the use of an imprecise weapon which is likely to result in civilian injuries".

The reports of flachette shells emerged as Gaza experienced its bloodiest day since the conflict began on 8 July, as more than 100 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were reported killed. Another 20 Palestinians have been killed in strikes today, the BBC reports, 16 of them in southern Gaza.

In 2008 and 2009, the IDF used artillery shells containing white phosphorous in civilian areas of Gaza. Human Rights Watch said the deployment of the weapon was evidence of war crimes.

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