Hamas now wants Egypt to openly deliver its fuel to Gaza through the Rafah crossing on their shared border — setting a precedent for establishing a proper trade route.
Egypt would agree to ship fuel, but insists on delivering it through Israel and via Israel's Kerem Shalom cargo crossing to Gaza, said an Egyptian diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the issue.
The circuitous arrangement makes the point that Israel bears responsibility for Gaza and not Egypt.
"We propose Kerem Shalom, because with this, we stress that Gaza is still under Israeli responsibility," the diplomat said. "If we accept what Hamas wants, we would absolve Israel of this responsibility."
Hamas argues that the Kerem Shalom option would give Israel control over Gaza's fuel supply.
The West Bank and Gaza, both captured by Israel in the 1967 war, lie on either side of the Jewish state. Over the past decade, Israel has enforced strict travel restrictions between the two, raising Arab concerns that it wants to "unload" Gaza onto Egypt and limit any future Palestinian state to a part of the West Bank.
Egypt also wants market rates for its fuel, which Hamas says it cannot afford. In recent days, Hamas officials have visited Qatar, Turkey, Bahrain and Iran in search of fuel subsidies. Gaza's prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, said Qatar has promised to help.
Yousef Rizka, an adviser to Haniyeh, accused Egypt of "political blackmail" and called on Egypt's newly elected parliament, dominated by Islamists, "to solve this problem."
Hamas officials also suspect Egypt is using the fuel issue to indirectly pressure the movement into accepting a Palestinian unity deal that would help Abbas regain some control in Gaza. Hamas leaders in Gaza have blocked the deal signed last month by their top leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal.
In recent days, Hamas has sent dozens of supporters to demonstrate near the Egyptian border to demand that Cairo start sending fuel.
But Hamas faces growing discontent.
"The government is responsible to find a solution for us," said Amjad Daban, a 44-year-old teacher who spent an hour Wednesday looking for transport. "I don't care where the fuel will come from. What I need is to find electricity and transportation."
Laub reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy in Cairo contributed reporting.