What to know about the white phosphorous appearing in Raqqa

Published November 25th, 2015 - 12:58 GMT
What to know about the substance Russia and France are being accused of using in airstrikes on Daesh's de facto Syrian capital. (AFP/File)
What to know about the substance Russia and France are being accused of using in airstrikes on Daesh's de facto Syrian capital. (AFP/File)

The use of chemical agents in the Syrian conflict has been linked to the worst crevices of the Assad regime or the murderous trenches of Daesh in the past. But activists in Daesh's(ISIS) Syrian headquarter city, Raqqa, this week reported seeing white phosporous coming from a different source—Russia or France.

Since the Paris attacks last week, France has vowed revenge on the Daesh (ISIS) militants responsible for the bloodbath—a plan that became apparent almost immediately, with French warplanes heading for Raqqa all last week. Russia, meanwhile, has also targeted the eastern Syrian city with airstrikes since expressing renewed commitment to fighting Daesh at the G20.

Here are three things to know about the substance purportedly falling on Raqqa.

1. It's a chemical agent, but not entirely illegal under international law. Known as WP, this is a substance that is highly flammable but falls short of falling into the category of banned chemical weapons like sarin gas. Under international law, it's an accepted means to ignite the battlefield and provide camouflage to ground troops. 

2. Its use is banned in densely populated areas. The chemical can burn through skin and bone, reports the Independent, so its use is strictly reserved for infantry zones. Raqqa, by contrast, is a city with some 120,000 residents, most of whom have nothing to do with the militant group controlling their city.

3. This is the first time such accusations have befallen members of the US-led coalition, but Russia's been suspected before. Earlier this month, a Syrian opposition group in Idlib claimed Russia used an explosive with WP in the Idlib village of Benin. 

4. Activists outside the city are reporting massive injuries among Raqqans following the ramped up airstrikes by France and Russia. Opposition members in neighboring Idlib told the Times of London they witnessed massive civilian injuries following dual strikes by both countries on Nov. 13. 

5. Though Raqqa is under Daesh occupation, activists say the airstrikes targeted areas filled with civilians, not militants. Also based in neighboring Idlib, one activist told the British newspaper the site of the attacks were some 40 miles from Daesh positions. 

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