The United States should break Israel's blockade of Gaza and deliver badly needed supplies by sea, a U.S. congressman told Gaza students.

Rep. Brian Baird, a Democrat from Washington state, also urged President Barack Obama's Mideast envoy to visit the Hamas-ruled territory to get a firsthand look at the destruction caused by Israeli's military offensive last year.

The Obama administration, like its predecessor, shuns Hamas because the Islamic militant group refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence.

Israel and Egypt have restricted access to Gaza since Hamas' victory in parliament elections in 2006 and tightened the blockade after Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007.

Israel allows humanitarian supplies and food into Gaza, but has kept out cement and other building supplies needed for reconstruction. Israel argues such materials could be diverted by Hamas for military use.

Baird, who has announced his retirement from Congress, told a group of Gaza students Sunday evening that the U.S. should not condone the blockade.

"We ought to bring roll-on, roll-off ships and roll them right to the beach and bring the relief supplies in, in our version of the Berlin airlift," he said, adding that the supplies could be delivered to UN aid agencies.

On Saturday, the Palestinian Ma'an new agency, quoting the Strip's Energy Authority, reported that Gaza's sole power plant will cease functioning within hours due to a fuel shortage.

The Gaza Energy Authority wrote in a statement that while most of the power plant's generators have been shut down, the remaining amount of fuel will only suffice to continue the plant's electricity output for a few hours longer.

According to the Ma'an report, the Strip-based authority also claimed that the reduction of fuel transfers into Gaza continued, with the first week of February seeing 1,600 cubic meters of fuel entrring the costal enclave instead of the 2,200 cubic meters decided upon in an Israeli court decision.

Authorities appealed to international and humanitarian organizations, as well as Arab states and the Organization of the Islamic Conference to end the ongoing electricity deficit in Gaza.

Last week, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip inflicted "protracted suffering" on Palestinians.

He described the blockade as "unacceptable and counter-productive" to development and reconstruction in the war-torn territory.