The Islamic militant group Hamas is trying to re-establish control of the Gaza Strip after a devastating three-week war with Israel. Meanwhile, Israel is concerned about allegations of war crimes, saying it will offer legal protection to soldiers.

The Hamas government has reopened for business in Gaza, though most of its offices were bombed by Israel. So officials set up tables in the rubble or worked from their cars.

Hamas plans to distribute $52 million  in aid to Palestinians who lost family members or whose homes were damaged in the war. But that is a fraction of what is needed to rebuild Gaza.

"The reconstruction and redevelopment of Gaza is something that will take years and years and billions and billions of dollars," Holmes said.

John Holmes is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

"There are areas where the destruction is very widespread, both of public infrastructure, an industrial site I saw that had been completely and systematically flattened, and other damage to residential areas, as well. So, it was a shocking sight in many places, and that underlines the depths of the humanitarian needs we need to address," Holmes said.

The U.N. and European Union have accused Israel of excessive use of force in Gaza and some human rights groups are accusing Israel of war crimes. At the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised military personnel state protection from foreign prosecution.

Mr. Olmert told the Cabinet that just as commanders and soldiers protected Israel with their bodies during the Gaza war, so the government of Israel would defend them.   

Israel says it undertook the offensive in Gaza to defend itself against Hamas rocket attacks.

U.S. diplomatic sources, meanwhile, say President Barack Obama is sending his Middle East envoy, former Senator George Mitchell, to the region this week.