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Video shows Russian incendiary munition attack in Ukraine, not Israeli assault on Gaza

Video shows Russian incendiary munition attack in Ukraine, not Israeli assault on Gaza - Featured image

Author(s): Tonye BAKARE / AFP Nigeria

Israel launched a retaliatory campaign in Gaza after a multipronged attack by Hamas militants on October 7, 2023, leaving thousands dead on both sides of the conflict. Several social media accounts claim a video shows Israeli forces raining down white phosphorus bombs on the densely-populated Palestinian enclave. But the claims are false: although a rights group has accused Israel of using incendiary munitions now and in the past, AFP Fact Check found that the video in the claim surfaced online months before the war triggered by the Hamas attack, and it shows a Russian bombardment of a Ukrainian village.

“Israel air force drops white Phosphorus bombs on Gaza,” reads an Instagram post published on October 11, 2023.

A screenshot shows the false claim, taken on October 11, 2023

The post, from an English-speaking Nigerian account, has been liked more than 330 times, with many commenters believing the claim.

A video in the post shows incendiary particles falling from the sky while a man speaking Ukrainian comments in the background.

The same claim circulated with the video in the Middle East and in other languages, including Portuguese and Spanish.

Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, leaving at least 1,200 people dead, most of them civilians. The militant group took about another 150 individuals as hostages.

The deadly assault is the worst in Israel’s 75-year history (archived here).

Meanwhile, officials in Gaza said Israel’s sustained retaliatory air and artillery strikes have killed at least 1,799 people and injured thousands more.

Although Israel has been accused of using phosphorus weapons in attacks on Gaza and Lebanon in recent days (archived here), the claim that the video shows Israeli forces unleashing them in Gaza is false.

Ukraine war 

Using the InVID-WeVerify video verification tool together with reverse image searches, AFP Fact Check found that the footage has been online since March 2023.

British newspaper The Telegraph published a longer version of the footage on its YouTube channel on March 13, 2023, more than six months before Hamas’s bloody attack on Israel (archived here).

The caption on the video explained that it showed Russian forces attacking Vuhledar, a town in Ukraine, with “thermite munitions”.

A thermite munition is a mixture of aluminium powder and iron oxide cased in magnesium, which is also an incendiary metal (archived here).

Another British news outlet, The Mirror, reported the Russian attack on March 12, 2023 (archived here).

A Dutch journalist also shared the same video two days earlier on X, formerly Twitter, noting that it showed evidence of Russia attacking Vuhledar with “incendiary munitions” (archived here).

Located about 55.7 kilometres (34 miles) southwest of Donetsk, Vuhledar was a key battleground between Russian and Ukrainian forces (archived here).

Human Rights Watch said Russian forces used cluster munitions in Vuhledar on February 24, 2023 (archived here).

‘Phosphorus attack on Gaza and Lebanon’

On October 12, 2023, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it had verified videos taken in Gaza and Lebanon that showed Israel used white phosphorus, “putting civilians at unnecessary risk” (archived here).

Israel’s bombardment over the Gaza City seaport on October 11, 2023 – MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

“Any time that white phosphorus is used in crowded civilian areas, it poses a high risk of excruciating burns and lifelong suffering,” said Lama Fakih, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.

This is not the first time the rights group has accused Israel of using the restricted munition in Gaza (archived here).

In 2009, HRW said the “extensive use of white phosphorus munitions” by the Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza between December 27, 2008, and January 18, 2009, was deliberate and that it killed and injured civilians (archived here).

The use of incendiary weapons is covered by Protocol III of the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and almost entirely prohibits their deployment in civilian areas (archive here).

What the UN convention says about the use of incendiary bombs

The renewed conflict between Israel and Palestine has generated a wave of misinformation online. Follow our coverage here.

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Originally published here.