UN head Ban Ki-moon has made a brief trip to war-ravaged Gaza, following pledges by an international donor conference to rebuild the territory after a devastating Israeli offensive this past summer.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was taken through Gaza City's Shejaiya neighborhood and the nearby Jabaliya refugee camp on Tuesday, sites of some of the heaviest destruction from this summer's seven-week conflict.
People camping outside their ravaged homes could be seen waving at the convoy of white UN vehicles as it passed.
After meeting members of the newly convened Palestinian consensus government, Ban said at a press conference that he was shocked at the extent of the devastation.
"The destruction I have seen here is beyond description. This is much more serious than what I saw in 2009."
Ban, who last visited the territory in 2012, said at a donor conference in Egypt on Sunday that his trip to the Palestinian enclave was "to listen directly to the people of Gaza."
He said that international pledges of 5.4 billion (4.3 billion euros) in reconstruction aid were "quite encouraging." Donations included 1 billion euros from Qatar, 212 million euros from the United States and 450 million euros from the European Union.
The aid installments will be overseen jointly by the UN and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA), amid concerns that unchecked imports could fall into the hands of militants - including Hamas, the de facto power in Gaza and Israel's adversary in this summer's conflict.
Hamas and its rival Fatah, which dominates the PA, signed a unity deal in April under which a consensus government was sworn in.
Ban said that the promised aid funds would go towards the "urgently needed" building of infrastructure and homes in Gaza where nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the 50-day war in July and August.
On the Israeli side, 73 people were killed, mostly soldiers.
At the Cairo conference, Ban said "the root causes of the recent hostilities" were "a restrictive occupation that has lasted almost half a century, the continued denial of Palestinian rights and the lack of tangible progress in peace negotiations".
On Tuesday he urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to revive collapsed peace talks without delay.
"I'm asking the leaders of both parties... to resume their talks," he said. "Otherwise it's a matter of time that the violence will continue."
On a visit on Monday to the West Bank city of Ramallah, Ban lashed out at continued Israeli settlement expansion.
"I once again strongly condemn the continued settlement activity by Israel," the UN chief said, echoing international condemnation of plans for new settler homes on occupied Palestinian territory.
Washington and Brussels have slammed Israel's approval in September of 2,600 new settlement units in Israeli-annexed Arab East Jerusalem.
The settlement issue has been a major obstacle to the continuation and success of Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.
glb/jr (AFP, Reuters, AP)