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.

"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

But Hamas has expressed reservations saying that it would give Abbas an automatic extension of his presidential term, which it insists ends in January.

An Egyptian official said that the talks had been been postponed, after which some delegates were turned back by the Egyptian authorities as they tried to travel to the talks.
  
The 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 to this boycott because this is not an easy situation for them since they have spent so muh 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."

Palestinian unity

Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Abbas, criticised Hamas's decision.
  
"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," he said.

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 Abbas of arresting hundreds of the movement's members in the West Bank in recent weeks.

"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," Barhoum said.

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.

"They are arrested and brought to justice," he said at a joint news conference in Ramallah with Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, on Friday.

Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Gaza City, said the two Palestinian factions has been bitterly divided 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 said.

"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."