BEIRUT, Lebanon — Images and reports from witnesses in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa suggest that the United States-led coalition battling the Islamic State there has used munitions loaded with white phosphorus, the use of which in populated areas is prohibited under international law.
Photographs and video clips posted online showed blinding spots of light spreading outward on Thursday night over what residents said was eastern Raqqa. By day, the images showed low white puffs trailing tentacles of white smoke. Both are typical visual signatures of white phosphorus, which can be loaded into artillery shells.
Residents reached by text message reported similar bombardments on Friday.
The images were distributed by the Aamaq news agency of the Islamic State, as well as a monitoring group called Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. The Islamic State has made claims of use of white phosphorous by United States-led forces before as part of its efforts to discredit its enemies.
White phosphorus, along with other incendiaries, has been used by Syrian government forces battling insurgents in Aleppo and elsewhere.
It is not illegal under international law for militaries to possess and use white phosphorus, and the United States’ and other Western militaries say they use it mainly to create smoke screens to hide troop movements. But it can also be used as an incendiary weapon, setting very hot fires. And like thermite and napalm, it is proscribed in civilian areas by international law…
U.S.-Led Forces Said to Have Used White Phosphorus in Syria