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Hamas minister denies two-state solution reference

Written by: Staff

GAZA, Apr 5 (Reuters) Palestinian Foreign Minister and senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar today denied referring to a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, wording that might have hinted at Israel's right to exist.

A senior Palestinian diplomat at the United Nations said on Tuesday that Zahar had made the reference in a letter he sent to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan this week.

''Such a sentence was not used in the letter,'' Zahar told Reuters. A copy of the letter seen by Reuters also showed no mention of a two-state solution.

Hamas, which swept parliamentary elections in January, is sworn to Israel's destruction and has vowed to keep fighting the Jewish state since taking over the Palestinian government last week. It says talks with Israel would be a waste of time.

Israel calls Hamas a terrorist organisation and has vowed not to negotiate with the group.

Despite not referring to a two-state solution, Zahar's letter to Annan was conciliatory for a Hamas leader who has a reputation as a hardliner.

Zahar said his government wanted ''to work with the United Nations and countries of the world ... to achieve regional peace and stability based on a comprehensive and just solution.'' ''We hope some countries will reconsider their positions and hasty decisions especially regarding stopping aid and the use of the language of threats instead of dialogue,'' the letter added.

Israel and the United States have sought to isolate the Hamas government.

The ''Quartet'' of Middle East mediators -- the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia -- has also said aid will be cut if Hamas does not recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept interim peace agreements.

Palestinian UN Observer Riyad Mansour, speaking to reporters at United Nations headquarters on Tuesday, had said the choice of wording in Zahar's letter was important, hinting at an evolution in Hamas thinking.

Mansour said the letter also referred to the Palestinian hope of wanting to live in peace ''side by side with our neighbours'', which could have implied Israel. The letter seen by Reuters did not include this.

Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas lawmaker, said recognising Israel was not up for debate, although he restated the group's offer of a long-term truce if Israel was to fully withdraw from land captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel has dismissed such an offer as a non-starter.

''We speak about a Palestinian state, fully sovereign, with Jerusalem as its capital and on Palestinian lands occupied in 1967 as an interim solution. This is one item on the government agenda, but recognition of Israel is not,'' he told Reuters.

Hamas has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings against Israelis since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000, but has largely abided by a year-old ceasefire.

Israel's interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose Kadima Party came first in elections last week, has promised to impose a final border with the Palestinian by 2010, with or without Palestinian agreement.

Such a unilateral move would involve dismantling Jewish settlements from large parts of the occupied West Bank.

Reuters CH BD1558

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