Egypt has closed its main border crossing point with the Gaza Strip amid tensions with the territory’s Hamas rulers, officials have said.
It was the first time the Rafah crossing was shuttered during a workday since early this year. Egyptian authorities had kept it open during the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in May.
According to the Egyptian officials, the closure was connected to Cairo’s efforts to broker a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. It was not immediately clear how long the closure would last, the officials said.
One of the officials said the move was meant to pressure Hamas because of the “differences” between Cairo and the group over lack of progress in both the Egyptian-led, indirect talks with Israel and also efforts to reconcile Palestinian factions.
The officials spoke to The Associated Press news agency on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to reporters.
The closure came hours after Egypt’s state-run news agency reported that the crossing point was opened on Sunday after its weekly closing down for the Muslim weekend, Friday and Saturday.
Iyad al-Bozum, a spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, said Hamas had been notified of the closure. He said they were in contact with Egyptian authorities to reopen Rafah.
“The closure of the crossing exacerbates the humanitarian crisis inside the Gaza Strip,” he told AP. “We hope the crossing will return to work as soon as possible.”
Egypt had ordered the Rafah crossing – the enclave’s only border point not controlled by Israel – to open in May to allow wounded Gaza Palestinians to be treated in Egyptian hospitals and to deliver aid.
The opening came in the aftermath of the 11-day exchange of devastating Israeli air attacks and Palestinian rocket fire, which also pushed Egypt to pledge $500m towards Gaza’s reconstruction.
Egypt had brokered the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas which ended the hostilities.
The Egyptian decision to close Rafah comes after a weekend of violence between Israel and Palestinians on Gaza’s eastern frontier.
Violence erupted on Saturday during a protest organised by Hamas to draw attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory.
Scores of Palestinians approached the border fence with Israel; at least 41 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were wounded.
Egypt has been a key mediator between Israel and Hamas over the years. Egypt’s intelligence chief Abbas Kamel paid a rare visit to Israel last week to discuss the ceasefire deal with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. He invited Bennett to Egypt.
Following the May war, Egypt has allowed aid and construction convoys into Gaza to help rebuild houses and infrastructure destroyed during the fighting.