Reconciliation talks between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have been postponed at the 11th hour.
All the major factions had been due to attend the talks in the Egyptian capital on Monday, but on Saturday delegates were turned back as reports emerged that Hamas would not be attending.
Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, said his faction was not boycotting the Cairo summit, as earlier reports had indicated, but that Egypt had postponed the gathering due to a "bad atmosphere".
Hamas and Fatah have been at loggerheads since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
Tensions had increased in the past few days due to what Hamas claims is an increase in the number of its members being arrested in the Fatah-administered West Bank.
"Hamas carries the responsibility for the failure of the Cairo dialogue and the responsibility for losing the opportunity to regain Palestinian unity"
Nabil Abu Rudeina,
a spokesman for the Palestinian president
Zahar said: "Egypt postponed the talks because it believed there was a bad atmosphere between the two sides that would have most likely led to the failure of the talks."
Nabil Shaat, the Fatah chief negotiator for the Cairo talks, told Al Jazeera it was a sad day for the Palestinians.
"This is a very sad day for me and the whole Palestinian people who had hoped that, on the 10th, the meeting will take place in Cairo which will lead the way to ending the division and separation between Gaza and the West Bank, between the Palestinian people on political and geographical grounds.
"Unfortunately, Hamas pulled out of this negotiation and the Egyptians had to postpone the meeting. I don't see really anything whatsoever that would rise to the level of an excuse to stop such a meeting."
Fatah and 11 other factions have welcomed a reconciliation plan, which calls for a politically independent government to be appointed until elections can be held.
But Hamas has expressed reservations, saying that it would give Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, an automatic extension of his term, which it insists must end in January.
An Egyptian official said: "The talks have been delayed to an undetermined date, to be decided on and announced later, at the request of Hamas."
Al Jazeera's Nour Odeh, reporting from Cairo, said: "We have to wait and see how Egypt will react. This is not an easy situation for them since they have spent so much of their regional political capital on getting Palestinians to form a government of national consensus.
"There are warnings that Egypt might hold one party responsible for these failed attempts to achieve reconciliation."
Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Abbas, criticised Hamas, saying: "Hamas carries the responsibility for the failure of the Cairo dialogue and the responsibility for losing the opportunity to regain Palestinian unity and stop the division between Palestinians."
|Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip after bloody street fighting in June 2007 [EPA]
Hamas, which seized full control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 after pushing out security forces loyal to Abbas, has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the talks.
Hamas has accused Fatah of arresting hundreds of the movement's members in the West Bank in recent weeks.
Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said: "Our decision was made because president Mahmoud Abbas is continuing to weaken the Hamas movement and he has not released any Hamas detainees in the West Bank."
Abbas has insisted his forces have arrested only those people who pose a security risk, and that they carried out their work irrespective of political affiliation.
Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Gaza City, said the two Palestinian factions have been bitterly opposed since the fighting in June 2007.
"What has been the concern of the Palestinian street has been that many of the internal Palestinian divisions which have plagued the political scene for the last 18 months have impeded their collective ability to negotiate the issues of the peace process," he reported.
"Many of them wanted to see the Palestinian factions reconcile their differences, bring their house in order and to have a unified, single Palestinian voice."