Experts say burn patterns on Syrians point to use of white phosphorus

The wounds seen on patients under treatment in a hospital in northern Syria’s Hasakah province resemble chemical burns, rather than blast wounds caused by airstrikes, the Times quoted an Iranian doctor working in a local hospital as saying.

“The burn types I am seeing here are very different to those I would expect to have been caused by anything else than an incendiary chemical like white phosphorus,” Dr. Abbas Mansouran told the Times

Kurdish sources, including the Kurdish Red Crescent and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), accuse Turkey of using munitions loaded with white phosphorus in the country’s military incursion in northern Syria targeting Kurdish forces. 

Turkey has issued statements rejecting the claims, while the United Nations has launched an investigation

Mansouran identified up to 20 people, including both fighters and civilians, with wound patterns suggesting the use of white phosphorus, the Times said.

The use of white phosphorus against people is prohibited under the Geneva and Chemical Weapons Conventions, while the chemical can be used in smokescreens or incendiary shells.

“Whatever it was would not stop burning into my flesh. It set three of my comrades alight,” the Times quoted a 19-year-old SDF fighter as describing his wounds.

Chemical weapons expert and former commanding officer in the British armed forces Hamish de Bretton-Gordon said the wounds he saw on 13-year-old Mohammed Hamid looked to have been caused by white phosphorus, which “reacts to the moisture in the skin in a way that intensifies its burning, so that water cannot put it out,” as the Times quoted him as saying.

An Iraqi chemistry expert Dr. Saleh Najib, who also examined the boy who had been injured in a mortar shelling in Ras al Ayn, said the wound pattern on his body and the smoke seen in footage from the mortar strongly imply the use of white phosphorus, pro-Kurdish news site Rudaw reported.

“White phosphorus turns into phosphoric acid on contact with the air at time of detonation and causes human skin to burn from the inside out,” Najib told Rudaw. “It also affects the heart, lungs and even bones.”

There are limited studies on the long-term effects of the chemical on humans, he said.

The Health Committee under the Rojava Autonomous Administration in northeast Syria reported burns similar to Hamid’s on the majority of injured civilians, Rudaw wrote.