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Gaza Humanitarian Crisis Deepens as Israel Weighs Opening Borders

The humanitarian crisis is deepening in Gaza, following Israel's 22-day offensive that Palestinian officials said killed nearly 1,300 people. Now, Israel says it is considering a prisoner swap to win the release of an Israeli soldier held in Gaza, something that could pave the way for the lifting of the blockade against Gaza.

U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes toured Gaza to begin figuring out ways to channel the massive relief that is needed. He expressed shock at the destruction left by Israel's 22-day campaign on militants in Gaza.

He said the United Nations wants an investigation into the Israeli bombing of a U.N. compound in which hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid were destroyed.

Food is finding its way back onto markets in Gaza, at much higher prices than before the attack. Residents said their biggest challenge now, after burying the dead, is finding where to live. Thousands of homes were destroyed.

Journalist Mohammed Dawwas, reporting for VOA, said People in Gaza City are struggling to bring their lives back to normal.

"We are talking about people who lost their homes. Where are they going to live? Where are they going to stay? This is the main problem. They have nothing to be sheltered under. There used to be water, electricity. They are still working on that, but we still have problems with these things now. We have no petrol, no gas, no cooking gas. Nobody has one container of gas to make any food in the house. Nothing at all," he said.

Food, fuel, other items are being smuggled into Gaza again.

Work was under way Thursday to repair the tunnels that Israel destroyed in its bid to stop the flow of weapons.

Israeli security officials have said they would consider ending their blockade on Gaza if efforts for an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire succeed. Israel wants guarantees and international help in preventing the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.

Israeli officials said they are discussing the possible handover of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by militants in Gaza since 2006.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke to reporters on Thursday.

He said he believes Israel's military operation in Gaza created levers that can help in speeding the return of Gilad Shalit. He said he would not elaborate.

Sources in the government said Mr. Olmert hopes to reach a deal with Hamas before Israel holds elections on February 10.

For now, Sunday's cease-fire remains fragile.

Palestinian officials said two people were injured when an Israeli gunboat fired on the Gaza coastline. The Israeli military said its boat had fired warning shots at a Palestinian vessel that had moved into a restricted zone.

Witnesses also reported gunfire elsewhere in the Gaza Strip.