RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Wet weather and tightening Egyptian restrictions combined Sunday to put a damper on the influx of Gaza Strip residents over the unregulated border with Egypt as a long-term political solution remained elusive.
Frustrated Palestinians slogged through muddy Egyptian streets searching in vain for supplies and long lines of trucks returned to the Gaza Strip with empty loads.
"I don't know why I even came," grumbled one grizzled Palestinian in a long robe and sandals as he shuffled down a flooded Rafah street heading towards Gaza.
Despite the shortage of things to buy, Palestinians and Egyptians easily moved back and forth over the border that was broken last Wednesday when Hamas militants demolished the towering iron and concrete walls separating Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
Egyptian merchants drove deep into Gaza on Sunday to sell gas and other goods from the back of their pickup trucks. Cars with red Egyptian license plates could be seen near the top of the Gaza Strip — 25 miles from the Egyptian border.
But political leaders inched no closer towards a solution. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not scheduled to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak until Wednesday in Cairo. Abbas, who is also known by his more informal name Abu Mazen, is pushing the idea of dispatching loyal presidential forces to Gaza to serve as border guards.
But neither Israel nor Hamas appears ready at this point to accept that solution.
Israel is skeptical that Abbas forces, routed from Gaza by Hamas forces in June, would be able to re-assert control.
"I won't do any good to have the presidential guard there given how weak Abu Mazen is," said a senior Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing negotiations. "We know that Hamas will run the show."
Indeed, Hamas has made it clear that it is not willing to help restore order at the border until it is given a prominent say in what happens next.
"We can close the border in five or ten minutes," boasted Basil Abu Yazan, a 30-year-old border coordinator for the Hamas forces. "In three hours we can bring all the people back, but there should be an agreement."
By breaking through the border on Wednesday and forcing Egyptian forces to pull back on Friday when they tried to seal the openings, Hamas is doing all it can to ensure that its political movement, like Gaza, is not forced back into a state of isolation.
But Abbas is refusing to talk with Hamas until it agrees to cede control of Gaza - something Hamas has refused to do.
On Sunday, Abbas met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to discuss peace talks and the problems in Gaza.
Israel is refusing to significantly ease up on its economic blockade of Gaza until Hamas brings an end to the near-daily barrage of crude rockets fired into southern Israel.
Earlier this month, Israel cut off its fuel deliveries to Gaza an attempt to put more pressure on Hamas to stop the rocket fire. But the actions drew the ire of the United Nations and aid groups who called the moves illegal and immoral.
In the face of a court challenge, Israel did agree to increase the amount of diesel it provides to Gaza's only power plant - but it was not clear how much fuel it would provide.
After meeting resistance from Hamas on Friday, Mubarak is now trying to find a political solution because a potentially deadly attempt to use force to close the border could be a disaster.
"Domestically, regionally or internationally, nobody will tolerate a huge use of force against a civilian population," said a senior Egyptian official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the problems.
Ever since its border guards were forced to retreat, Egypt's government has been trying to force Palestinians to return home by depriving them of things to buy. Egyptian forces pressured stores in the border town of Rafah and the next largest town, Arish, to close their doors.
On Sunday, long lines of empty trucks with white-and-green Palestinian plates headed back into Gaza.
In the last five days, Mohammed Sleen and his friend have driven back and forth into Egypt to load up their flatbed truck with fuel and other supplies.
On Sunday, Sleen drove back into Gaza with an empty truck.
"There is nothing left," said Sleen.
Allam reported from Cairo. Special Correspondent Cliff Churgin contributed to this report from Jerusalem.