JERUSALEM - The Palestinians of Gaza urgently need hundreds of millions of dollars for food and repairs, the UN said on Friday, as the US president added his voice to a clamour for Israel to fully open the enclave to aid.
The UN humanitarian chief said the Israeli offensive against Gaza had caused more destruction than expected and called the death toll "shocking".
"A very significant appeal for resources of hundreds of millions of dollars," was required at the start of February for just the next six to nine months, John Holmes told a press conference.
"The level of destruction, which I expected to be high ... was even worse than what I expected," he said after touring Gaza.
He noted that the Palestinian health ministry listed more than 1,300 dead and 5,000 wounded during Israel's 22-day Operation Cast Lead. "They are very alarming figures, very shocking figures for a three-week campaign like that."
Gazans urgently need food, drinking water, fuel and the repair of the electricity network, Holmes said. At least 100,000 of the 1.5 million population have been displaced.
In Washington, US President Barak Obama urged Israel to open Gaza border crossings to aid and commerce.
"Now we must extend a hand of opportunity to those who seek peace, as part of a lasting ceasefire, Gaza's border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce," Obama said.
"Relief efforts must be able to reach innocent Palestinians who depend on them," Obama said.
Holmes said the UN needed the crossing points "fully open" to be able to do its job.
The UN humanitarian chief said that the some 120 trucks being allowed into Gaza daily is "far from enough." "The basic requirements of Gaza for humanitarian and commercial goods, before the Hamas takeover (June 2007), was 500 to 600 hundreds trucks a day."
The Israeli army also allowed journalists into the Gaza Strip on Friday.
Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority welcomed the appointment of former senator George Mitchell as the new US envoy to the Middle East.
"He's someone with experience of the Israel-Palestinian question and the settlement of political conflicts," Palestinian chief negotiator Ahmad Qorei said.
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said he hoped that Mitchell would bring "the change needed for a new start in the peace process leading to the creation of a Palestinian state."
Meanwhile, Hamas sent a three-man team to Cairo for talks on consolidating the ceasefire with Israel, a spokesman for the Islamist movement said.
Hamas has warned it will resume its resistance if Israel does not open the crossings.
Some 200,000 Palestinian children were to return to UN-run schools in the Gaza Strip on Saturday. The United Nations relief agency operates 221 schools in the coastal enclave where more than 437 children were among the dead.