Egypt on Tuesday blocked its side of Rafah border crossing, that connects it with Gaza Strip, after Palestinian Authority (PA) personnel pulled out of the
and Hamas officers took their place.
The dispute over the border stems from a rift between the Western-backed PA and the Iran-backed Hamas group who took control of Gaza more than a decade ago in a brief civil war.
Rafah has been the sole exit point from Gaza for an estimated 95 percent of its population of 2 million, as Israel maintains tight restrictions on Palestinian movement at its border crossings, due to security concerns.
PA employees were deployed to Gaza's border crossings with Israel and Egypt in 2017, a move that largely opened up Rafah for two-way traffic, after Egyptian mediation led to a Palestinian reconciliation deal, which has since faltered.
On Sunday, the PA announced its pullout from Rafah, accusing Hamas of undermining its operations and detaining some of its workers. Since May, the crossing has been operating daily after sporadic openings for many years.
Hamas said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the PA and has imposed a series of economic sanctions on Gaza to press the group to cede power, was destroying prospects for unity.
A Palestinian official who maintains close contacts with Egypt said Cairo had decided to open Rafah crossing only to Palestinians returning to Gaza, after the PA personnel withdrew.
Egypt's restriction, the official said, showed its "disappointment at the faltering of the 2017 reconciliation agreement". But an Egyptian official in Cairo said he did not expect Rafah to be shut completely.
"Egypt recognizes the importance of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the Rafah crossing is an important access point for Palestinians," the official said, adding that his country would not abandon its mediation efforts.
Brigadier-General Yehya Hammad, the Hamas-appointed director of the crossing, told Reuters his men completed their deployment and were ready to operate the passage.
After they took up their posts, the body of a Palestinian who had died in Cairo and two women accompanying the coffin were allowed to enter Gaza. The women's passports were stamped by Hamas officers. A first bus with passengers from Egypt then arrived, with more expected later in the day.
"We hope the Egyptian side will open the crossing permanently as it did in the past to allow stranded patients, students, residents of third countries and humanitarian cases to travel," said Hammad, standing in the passport hall.
Hamas's takeover of the border crossing kills the hope of 2 million people of Gaza in a better life, as the border crossing represents their only outlet to move, getting humanitarian aids, and receiving building materials to reconstruct the strip that had been suffering for a decade, due to the stubbornness of Hamas and its ally, Iran.