The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is looking into allegations that Turkey has used white phosphorus munitions in its offensive into northeast Syria.
The accusations come from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), their spokesman posted a video of a child with burns on his face. The SDF asked for international organizations to send teams to investigate the wounds. The Kurdish Red Crescent says there are six patients in the hospital with burns from “unknown weapons.”
Under international law, white phosphorus is legal to use as a smokescreen during the day or to light up targets at night. Under Protocol III of the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, it is illegal to use white phosphorus against civilians or to air-drop it on military targets located within a concentration of civilians. White phosphorus causes severe burns, which can go through the skin all the way to the bone.
If the allegations are true, the use of white phosphorus against areas with civilian populations is not unique to the Turkish military. The U.S. military admitted to using white phosphorus in its 2004 offensive in Fallujah, Iraq. There were also reports of white phosphorus use by the U.S.-led coalition against civilian areas in Afghanistan in 2009.
The SDF took the Syrian city of Raqqa from ISIS in 2017 with U.S. air support. In this offensive, the U.S. was accused of dropping white phosphorus munitions on the city. The Russian government also accused the U.S. of using it on the Syrian city of Hajin in 2018, a claim the Pentagon denied.
Israel used white phosphorus in Gaza in its 2008-2009 offensive and was accused of using it indiscriminately on civilian areas by the UN. Saudi Arabia has used white phosphorus in its war on Yemen, and the U.S. has admitted to supplying the Saudis with the controlled chemical.