Announcing the postponement late on Saturday, the Tunisian Foreign Minister, Habib Bin Yahia, said the meeting was put off to an indefinite date because of differences between Arab governments on reforms.

"Tunisia deeply regrets postponing the summit on which many hopes were pinned especially during the crucial events that engulf the Arab world," Bin Yahia said.

Tight lipped

Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa was reticent and refused to comment on the reason for the postponement.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher told AFP that Arab governments must now decide quickly on a new date and place for a summit.

Writer and columnist for Al-Quds Al-Arabi Bassam Badarine said the postponement was proof that Arab systems were deteriorating.

"Tunisia deeply regrets postponing the summit on which many hopes were pinned especially during the crucial
events that engulf
the Arab world"

Habib Bin Yahia,  
Tunisian foreign minister

"I think what failed was the Arab regime," Badarine told Aljazeera.net.

The summit had earlier suffered a body blow on Saturday when two Arab Gulf states - the United Arab Emirates and Oman - decided to send low-level delegations to the meeting.

Their announcement came after similar decisions by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Serious differences

The preparatory meetings to settle on formulas for Arab political reform and reviving proposals to end the Arab-Israeli conflict were riddled with serious disagreements.

Musa confirmed the differences. "There are discussions …heated discussions, but we will find an agreement eventually," he said at a press conference.

Rifts, mainly over the issue of drafting an Arab reform project, dominated the second day of the ministers' closed meeting. 

Official sources said the disagreements had divided the participants into two camps: one favouring reform and its implementation and the other seeking a postponement of the issue until the next Arab summit in Algeria.

At least four governments had demanded postponement of the summit to allow for more preparatory work.