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UN begins its survey of Gaza's wreckage

THE United Nation's humanitarian chief yesterday launched a first-hand examination of the Gaza Strip so that the organization can begin providing desperately needed relief to the territory's 1.4 million people.

Also yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the war could help hasten the return of a captive Israeli soldier long held by Palestinians in Gaza. Israeli media said some Cabinet ministers have softened their positions on releasing Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier, signaling the government is trying to work out a deal with Hamas ahead of elections next month.

Opening a five-day trip to the region, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes called the steep Palestinian casualty toll "extremely shocking" and suggested that the UN might ask Israel to compensate it for wartime damage to UN compounds in Gaza.

Hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid were destroyed by Israeli shelling that struck the main UN compound.

"We want to make sure it is properly investigated and that we get proper accountability for it and proper compensation if it is needed and I think it will be needed," Holmes told reporters.

On the first day of a five-day trip to the region, Holmes said he was looking at immediate humanitarian needs and thinking about longer-term reconstruction in Gaza. The biggest concerns, he said, are providing clean water, sanitation, electricity and shelter.

Gaza's blockaded border crossings will have to be opened to allow reconstruction to begin, he said.


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