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Monday, 8 January, 2001, 17:39 GMT
Israel denies depleted uranium use
palestinian donkey cart
Some Palestinians believe depleted uranium is being used against them
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

As debate intensifies in Europe over the risks of depleted uranium (DU) weapons, Israel has insisted that it is not using them.

It has rejected an allegation by a Palestinian minister that its forces are firing them in the current wave of violence.

Israel is known to possess DU munitions, and a reluctance to use them now could indicate an awareness of the risks involved.

And even some critics say it would gain nothing from resorting to DU weapons.

A Ramallah newspaper, al-Hayat al-Jadidah, accused the Israelis on 19 December of using DU.

arafat
Yasser Arafat: Said to be concerned
It said the Palestinian Interior Minister, Dr Yusuf Abu-Safieh, had "confirmed that the occupation authorities have started using radioactive uranium ammunition to suppress the intifada".

The minister said the Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat, was assembling a committee "to examine the situation".

Earlier denial

But the Israeli Embassy in London told BBC News Online the report was completely without foundation, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were not using DU.

It did not say why the IDF were not using DU munitions, nor whether they might do so in the future.

Last November the independent Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG) asked the IDF about reports that Israeli helicopters had been using DU ammunition throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

An IDF spokesman said no such ammunition had been used.

The same month a US group, the International Action Center (IAC), called for an inquiry into what it said was Israel's use of DU weapons.

Confiscated

IAC members say they picked up shell casings and metal fragments around Nablus and Ramallah which they believe contained DU.

But the debris was confiscated from them as they were leaving Israel, so they were unable to test it for radioactivity.

More than 350 people have been killed in the last three months in the violence between Palestinians and Israelis. Most of those who died have been Palestinians.

Depleted uranium is a heavy substance, 1.7 times as dense as lead, and used in armour-piercing munitions.

scoentist searches rubble
Kosove: The search for DU remnants
Many veterans of the Gulf War believe it is implicated in a range of medical problems they are suffering from, known collectively as Gulf War Syndrome.

And members of the armed forces of several European countries who served in Bosnia and Kosovo now say they believe DU may have made them ill.

Because of its ability to punch through armour, DU is prized as a highly effective anti-tank weapon.

In its natural state, it is only mildly radioactive. On impact with a solid object it turns into a burning vapour.

Risks 'negligible'

The US Defense Department and the UK Ministry of Defence accept that the resulting dust can be dangerous, and say troops entering vehicles hit by DU weapons need to take precautions.

But they say the dust soon ceases to be a significant problem, and is unlikely to move far from the site of the explosion, though independent authors have found it can be blown many miles.

The US and UK military authorities say any risk from DU comes from its toxicity as a heavy metal, and that its radioactivity is negligible.


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04 Jan 01 | Europe
07 Jan 01 | Europe
06 Jan 01 | Europe
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