U.N. officials, declaring that war damage threatens Iraq with widespread disease and hunger, agreed Friday to allow food shipments and to ease restrictions on fuel, spare parts and other essential materials.

The emergency measures were approved Friday by the U.N. sanctions committee, made up of representatives of the 15 nations that have seats on the U.N. Security Council.\It was later accepted by a full session of the Security Council after the council heard a U.N. report stating that the allied bombing of Iraq had caused "near apocalyptic" damage.

In its decision, the sanctions committee agreed to ease - but not remove entirely - restrictions on fuel, generators, spare parts and other essentials to repair water purification systems, power trucks and make humanitarian aid effective.

In other gulf-related developments:

- Toxic gases, pools of oil and the impending summer heat wave all are complicating the efforts to fight 600 oil-well fires blazing in the Kuwaiti desert, the acting oil minister said Friday.

"The magnitude of the problem is becoming greater every day," the minister, Rasheed al-Amiri, told a news conference. "We think it will take one to two years to put out the fires, but no one really knows. It could be longer."

The first large-scale firefighting, carried out by one Canadian and three American firms, began Friday. A few small fires set alight by the occupying Iraqi forces already have been extinguished, al-Amiri said.

- Congress passed legislation on Friday that threatens to impose arms-sale bans against six U.S. allies and suspends some aid to Jordan. The legislation was a diluted variation, prompting President Bush to lift a veto warning.

- The Bush administration has informed Congress that it intends to sell Israel another Patriot missile unit, the weapon that shot down incoming Scud missiles launched by Iraq.

The unit, which carries a $350 million price tag, is composed of eight missile-launching stations, 64 Patriot missiles and related support equipment.

- Hundreds of U.S. citizens and companies that suffered losses after Iraq invaded Kuwait have filed claims with the U.S. Treasury Department, but they probably won't see their money for another five to 10 years, legal experts say.

- A Navy seaman who returned safely from the Persian Gulf war and a friend were missing Friday and presumed drowned after their small sailboat capsized on Lake Michigan, near Evanston, Ill., during a welcome-home party, authorities said.

- More than 1,100 Kuwaiti soldiers returned home Friday from seven months in captivity in Iraq - but many were promptly incarcerated again by the Kuwaiti military.

About 400 of the freed prisoners - all of them Kuwaiti citizens - were allowed to return home to their families after arriving in Kuwait from Saudi Arabia.

But the rest, more than 700 men, were taken to a military camp outside Kuwait City because - although they had served in Kuwait's security forces - they were not Kuwaiti citizens.

- The head of Iraq's Kurdish opposition coalition urged other opposition leaders Friday to join him in northern Iraq to discuss the formation of a provisional government.

- An Egyptian soldier who fought in the Persian Gulf war appeared at his parents' doorstep 20 days after he was officially declared dead, a Cairo newspaper reported Friday.

Yasser Ahmed, 21, told the government-owned al-Akhbar daily that the first person he met Wednesday on the road to his village, Arab Darwich in the Nile Delta province of Sharkiya, thought he was a ghost.