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Germany

Germany Expects Israel to Probe Phosphorus Bomb Claims

Germany has asked Israel to probe allegations it illegally used white phosphorus shells in Gaza. The request comes at a time when the influence that Germany and the EU have over Israel is viewed as minimal.

A rocket explodes over Gaza

White phosphorus is banned under international law for use near civilians

"The Israeli side has itself announced that it will carry out an inquiry into these allegations. We expect this to occur with the necessary urgency and thoroughness," foreign ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke said.

Peschke however emphasized that now is not the right time for an international, independent probe of the matter.

"In the current situation we should be focused on turning the very fragile peace there into a sustainable ceasefire ... so that it is possible to give concrete help to people, to organize reconstruction and of course to return to a political process," he told a regular news conference on Friday, Jan. 23.

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Although white phosphorus is permitted for creating a smokescreen, it is banned under international law for use near civilians because it can cause severe burns. According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the country’s army has begun an inquiry to determine whether paratroopers used the banned shells close to civilians during the Gaza offensive.

Amesty International has alleged that Israel could be guilty of war crimes, saying the use of the shells in civilian areas was "clear and undeniable."

Germany’s call on Israel to conduct the probe comes at a time when European influence over Israel is proving itself to be minimal if not obsolete.

Europe's dilemma

The European Union has been frustrated in the past by being forced to stand on the sidelines and watch as building projects they funded in Palestine were destroyed by Israeli bombs. The European Union has been a major aid partner to Palestine, but has very little political influence in the Middle East, experts say.

But with new US President Barack Obama signaling that his administration will make the Middle East a top foreign policy priority, Europe hopes for a greater influence on Israel.

"The government believes that progress in the Middle East is only possible with a strong and sustainable contribution of the United States," German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said recently.

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