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Hospitals Are Overcrowded With Injuries From Latest Gaza Protests

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: And I'm Steve Inskeep reporting from Gaza, where the places we visited today included a hospital which was crowded to say the least. Gaza health authorities say at least 60 people were killed in protests on Monday, and 1,359 were hit by live ammunition. They were trying to breach a border barrier defended by the Israel Defense Forces. We're near a protest site where we have heard scattered gunshots again today. Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus is the international spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, and he's on the line.

Welcome to the program.

JONATHAN CONRICUS: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: I'd like to read you a quote from Doctors Without Borders, put out after yesterday's violence. The quote is, "it is unbearable to watch such a massive number of unarmed people being shot."

Why have so many people who appear to have been unarmed been shot?

CONRICUS: Well, yesterday really was an unprecedented level of violence in the scope and the severity of the attacks that Hamas, which is an internationally recognized terrorist organization, organized against Israel. What we had yesterday were armed terrorist attacks against Israeli targets. And there were two locations where Hamas terrorists attacked Israeli troops with live ammunition and with IED.

INSKEEP: So you're asserting that Hamas actually used live ammunition at at least two of the 13 protest sites. But you're not asserting that most of the protesters were armed. Correct? The protesters we have seen have not been.

CONRICUS: That is correct. And I can say that the IDF only fired at rioters who were trying to tear down the fence or to engage in hostile activity against Israeli troops. And then we fire at the leg, and we do not try to kill. That is not the purpose. But it is a very dynamic area. And there have been several cases where people - unfortunately, rioters have also died even though - and you can check this with Palestinian data as well - the vast majority of gunshot wounds have been to the lower limbs.

INSKEEP: So when Israeli officials said before Monday's violence that they were going to focus on non-lethal methods, is that what they meant - they still intended to shoot people but to shoot low?

CONRICUS: No. What we've been trying to message to the Palestinians - to the Hamas leadership which controls the Gaza Strip as well as to the everyday Palestinians is that they can demonstrate as much as they want as long as they're not trying to invade into Israel. And I really suggest that everybody should pay close attention to Hamas leaders say in Arabic to their own people, not in English-speaking media. And in Arabic, they promised yesterday that they were going to march into Israel - what they call Palestine - and that their next sermon, preaches (ph), would be inside Israel. And they named specific Israeli communities.

Now, when they say that they're going to cross the border, when they say that they will tear down the fence and tear out the hearts from the bodies of the Zionists, they leave very little room for interpretation. And it really forces us, the IDF, to be very vigilant and to make sure that we defend our civilians.

INSKEEP: I guess we should be clear. When you say they're here to invade, they in fact are trying to get out of Gaza and into Israel, which they say they have a claim to - that they would like to assert that. Are there any ongoing efforts to address the concerns of people in Gaza who feel that they are trapped here?

CONRICUS: There is one address for the deplorable state that the civilians in Gaza are suffering from, and that is Hamas. Hamas has been ruling Gaza for 11 years straight, and they don't have a single civil achievement to show for it. So if anyone bears responsibility, it is the government or the governing body of Gaza. And that is Hamas.

INSKEEP: Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus is a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces.

Thank you very much.

CONRICUS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.