Video shows an attack in Ukraine, not Gaza

17 October 2023
What was claimed

A video shows white phosphorus bombs being dropped by Israeli forces on the Gaza Strip.

Our verdict

The video was filmed in March 2023 and shows a Russian attack reportedly using incendiary weapons on an eastern town in the Donbas region of Ukraine.

Multiple posts on social media claim a video shows Israeli forces dropping white phosphorus bombs on the Gaza Strip. But the footage actually comes from March 2023 and shows the Donbas region in Ukraine. 

The video shows what looks like sparks falling to the ground as the person filming appears to take shelter. It has been shared widely across social media platforms in recent days—including Facebook, TikTok and X (formerly Twitter)—and many posts have the caption: “LATEST: Shocking! Israel air force drops white Phosphorus bombs on Gaza”. 

However, the video was not filmed in the Gaza Strip. 

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Where does the video come from?

A longer version of the video was shared on YouTube by the Telegraph on 13 March 2023 with the caption: “Russian shells rain down on Vuhledar as fight for Donbas rages on”. A man speaking in a Slavic language can be heard in the background and the video’s description says: “Russian forces appeared to target the eastern town of Vuhledar with incendiary thermite munitions”. 

Incendiary weapons are those that cause burning or respiratory injury from a chemical reaction of flammable substances such as napalm. In particular, thermite munitions use a mixture of aluminium powder and iron oxide, which burns at very high temperatures, and is intended to create fires. 

In May 2023, Human Rights Watch reported at least 82 instances of surface-fired incendiary weapons being used in Ukraine between February 2022 and April 2023 but it could not attribute responsibility for the attacks because both Ukraine and Russia possess the weapons. 

The use of incendiary weapons against “concentrations of civilians” is restricted under international regulation, but Human Rights Watch warns there are “loopholes” in this legislation.

What are white phosphorus bombs?

As mentioned, reports suggest the video shows incendiary thermite munitions, which are different to white phosphorus bombs. White phosphorus is a wax-like, toxic substance that ignites instantly with oxygen and burns at more than 800 degrees Celsius. 

Despite having incendiary effects—such as causing destructive fires that are difficult to extinguish—white phosphorus is not technically classed as an incendiary weapon because its “primary purpose” is to be a smokescreen or signal for military operations, rather than “to set fire to objects or cause burn injury”. However, it would be considered a war crime if it were air-dropped on a civilian area.

Ukraine has accused Russia of using white phosphorus since its invasion in 2022, including in Mariupol and Bakhmut.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused Israel of using white phosphorus artillery in the Gaza Strip during the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, citing videos they have verified and interviews as evidence. The Israeli military reportedly described the accusation as “unequivocally false”. 

Misinformation can spread quickly during large-scale news events and be difficult to contain. We’ve written about other misleading images and videos concerning both the war in Ukraine and recent events in Israel and the Gaza Strip, as well as the floods in Libya, earthquake in Morocco and wildfires in Maui

It's important to consider whether a post shows what it claims before sharing it online. We have tips on how to do this in our How to spot misleading images online and How to fact check misleading videos guides. 

Image courtesy of Photogiver

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