JERUSALEM, April 26 (Reuters) - Israel is phasing out white phosphorus munitions whose use to create smokescreens during its 2008-2009 offensive in the Gaza Strip drew international criticism, the military said on Friday.
The army statement did not say whether Israel also planned to review its use of weaponised white phosphorus, which is designed to incinerate enemy positions.
While legal when fired to mask troop movements on battlefields, white phosphorus poses a fire risk. Images of its embers and ash endangering Palestinian civilians prompted Israel to rethink its use. One army general was eventually disciplined over misuse of the munitions in Gaza.
Smokescreen artillery shells containing white phosphorus "are to be removed from active duty soon" and replaced by Israeli-developed alternatives "based completely on gas" around a year from now, the military said, without giving details.
During the Gaza fighting, Israel said troops fired mortar rounds with white phosphorus warheads to clear brush around trenches used by Palestinian gunmen.
At the time, Human Rights Watch said Israel appeared to be using white phosphorus to hide military operations, as permitted in principle under international humanitarian law.
"However, white phosphorus has a significant, incidental, incendiary effect that can severely burn people and set structures, fields, and other civilian objects in the vicinity on fire," the New York-based organisation said.
"The potential for harm to civilians is magnified by Gaza's high population density, among the highest in the world," it added, calling on Israel to stop using the munitions. (Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alistair Lyon)