Israel’s use of live ammunition against Palestinian protesters in Gaza has left health workers struggling to cope with an unprecedented crisis, with more than 13,000 wounded, a senior Red Cross official said Monday.
At least 132 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the protests at the border with Gaza began at the end of March.
Robert Mardini, head of Middle East for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told reporters that the “vast majority” of the 13,000 hospitalized protesters had suffered severe wounds, including multiple gunshot wounds.
“This is I think a crisis of unprecedented magnitude in the Gaza Strip,” said Mardini.
The wounded caseload from the seven weeks of protest had surpassed that of the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.
The Red Cross is planning to open a new 50-bed surgery unit at Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital to help deal with the surge in gunshot wounds.
Some 1,400 patients have been hit by three to five bullets, many in the legs, which require several complex orthopedic and reconstructive surgeries.
Israel maintains the use of live ammunition is necessary to defend its borders and stop infiltrations. It accuses Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas of seeking to use the protests as cover for attacks.
Mardini said the Red Cross was holding talks with Israeli defense forces to minimize civilian harm.
As a result of the talks, the Palestinian Red Cross has been able to send aid workers near the fence to evacuate the wounded to safety.
The protests peaked on May 14 when at least 61 Palestinians were killed as thousands approached the heavily guarded border fence on the same day the United States moved its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.