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Hamas leader takes conciliatory note in UN letter

Written by: Staff

United Nations, Apr 5: The Palestinians' new Hamas foreign minister has written UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan referring to a ''two-state solution'' for the West Asia, a conciliatory phrase the world should take note of, a top Palestinian diplomat said.

In his first letter to Annan, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a leading Hamas figure, also refers to the Palestinians hope to ''live in peace and security ... side by side with our neighbors in this sacred part of the world.'' Palestinian UN Observer Riyad Mansour, speaking to reporters at UN headquarters, said of the letter's choice of words, ''This is important,'' hinting they showed an evolution in Hamas thinking.

The group is sworn to Israel's destruction and has vowed to keep fighting the Jewish state since taking over the Palestinian government. It says talks with Israel would be a waste of time.

The letter, referring to Israel's expansion of its West Bank settlements and its construction of a barrier on Palestinian land, says at one point: ''This will ultimately diminish any hopes for the achievement of settlement and peace based on a two-state solution,'' a possible reference to recognizing Israel's right to exist.

The unofficial translation of the letter's final paragraph, provided by the Palestinian UN Observer Mission, states: ''Like all other people in the world, we look forward to live in peace and security for our people to live a dignified live in freedom and independence, side by side with our neighbors in this sacred part of the world.''

'Neighbours' include Israel

Mansour said the reference to ''this sacred part of the world'' made clear Zahar was talking about the holy land and that the mention of ''neighbors'' therefore included Israel.

Zahar's letter yesterday appealed for a dialogue between the Hamas-led government and the quartet of West Asia mediators: the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia.

''It is my hope, your excellency, to work with the international community and the quartet in order to continue its support for the Palestinian people and their institutions and to enable the Palestinian people to attain their legitimate rights,'' Zahar said in the letter.

''We also hope that some countries will reconsider their positions and their hasty decisions, particularly with regard to the withholding of assistance and resorting to the language of threats instead of dialogue,'' he said.

Israel and the United States have sought to isolate the Islamic militant group, which swept parliamentary elections in January and formally took control of the Palestinian Authority last week.

Israel, which regards Hamas as a terrorist organization, has cut tax revenue transfers to the Palestinians while Western aid to the Palestinian Authority is under threat.

The United States also wants to isolate Hamas economically and diplomatically and is pressing other countries to join it.

But Russia, Saudi Arabia and others have balked at cutting off contacts. Hamas leaders have also met with Chinese, French and Indian officials, and Zahar announced plans on Tuesday to visit China and other Asian nations.


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