The UN nuclear watchdog said yesterday it would investigate allegations by Arab countries that Israel may have used ammunition containing depleted uranium during its 22-day military offensive in Gaza. Separately, Israel's army is said to have launched an inquiry into whether paratroopers used banned white phosphorus shells close to civilians during the Gaza offensive.
The Arab countries made the allegations in a letter to Director General Mohammed ElBaradei which was delivered by the Saudi Arabian ambassador. They asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to investigate the matter.
IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming confirmed the receipt of the letter. "We are circulating the letter to member states and will investigate the matter to the extent of our ability," IAEA spokeswoman Fleming said.
The exact course of action would be decided after consultation with member states.
The Israeli ambassador to the IAEA, Israel Michaeli, declined to comment.
Depleted uranium is a waste product of uranium enrichment and has a number of civilian and military applications, including its use in weapons to penetrate tanks and armor plating.
Depleted uranium could pose a health risk in the form of dust found at impact sites.
Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported yesterday that the probe in the alleged use of white phosphorus shells centered on the firing of some 20 shells "which are banned for use in populated areas" around Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip by a reserve parachute brigade.
An army spokesman told AFP it was not an official inquiry.
Haaretz said the army used two types of phosphorus shells and considered them as smoke bombs.
Under international law, white phosphorus is banned for use near civilians, but is permitted for creating a smokescreen.
The report came after Amnesty International alleged on Monday that Israel could be guilty of war crimes, saying the use of the shells in a civilian areas was "clear and undeniable".
Medics in Gaza reported treating dozens of people for burns caused by white phosphorus during Israel's 22-day offensive against the Hamas-ruled territory that killed more than 1,300 people before it ended on Sunday.
Israel has insisted that all weapons being used in its Gaza war were within the bounds of international law.
The substance is a toxic chemical agent, which can cause severe burns. Dispersed in artillery fire, it burns on contact with oxygen and creates a smokescreen in order to hide troop movements.