Investigation over Israeli use of exhausted resources

JERUSALEM – Israel yesterday denied allegations it used depleted uranium munitions in Gaza, accusing the Arab nations that made the report of “particularly poor propaganda.”

On Monday, Arab nations asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to investigate reports that uranium traces were found in victims of Israeli shelling during the three-week campaign against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

“This is a particularly poor propaganda spin,” Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said yesterday. “These accusations have been raised in the past many times and have been proven groundless each time by independent investigators.”

Similar allegations were raised after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Investigations found no proof depleted uranium munitions were used.

In a letter to the IAEA on behalf of Arab ambassadors accredited in Austria, Prince Mansour Al-Saoud, the Saudi Ambassador, had expressed “our deep concern regarding the information … that traces of depleted uranium have been found in Palestinian victims.”

The letter urgently requested IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei to “carry out a radiological and physical assessment in order to verify the presence of depleted uranium in the weaponry used by Israel … in the Gaza Strip.”

The letter – which spoke of “medical and media sources” as the origin of its allegations – appeared to be alluding to health concerns related to depleted uranium but the effects of exposure to the substance are unclear.

An IAEA article on the issue says that while the substance “is assumed to be potentially carcinogenic … the lack of evidence for a definite cancer risk in studies over many decades is significant and should put the results of assessments in perspective.”

Still, says the article, “there is a risk of developing cancer from exposure to radiation emitted by … depleted uranium. This risk is assumed to be proportional to the dose received.”

Depleted uranium makes shells and bombs harder and increases their penetrating power. The U.S. and NATO have used uranium-depleted rounds in Bosnia and Iraq.

According to the World Health Organization, the weapons are lightly radioactive.

Researchers have suspected depleted uranium may be behind a range of chronic symptoms suffered by veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War. Some of the symptoms include memory and thinking problems, debilitating fatigue, severe muscle and joint pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, headaches and rashes.