The Palestinian foreign minister said in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday that the new Hamas-led government believes its struggle against Israel is just, but it wants to live side by side in peace with its neighbors.

The language in Mahmoud Zahar's letter — his first official correspondence with Annan since Hamas officially took power last week — was reminiscent of that used by President Bush and the Quartet of international parties trying to promote a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia. They have called for two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

But Zahar also lambasted Israel's "illegal colonial policies" which he said "will ultimately diminish any hopes for the achievement of settlement and peace based on a two-state solution."

Hamas, the surprise winner of January's Palestinian parliamentary election, has refused to recognize Israel, accept past Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements and renounce violence, as Israel and the Quartet have demanded.

The letter made no reference to these three key issues, but the reference to a possible two-state solution — even negatively — was seen as a possible opening.

As was Zahar's final sentence: "Like all other people in the world, we look forward to live in peace and security and for our people to live a dignified life in freedom and independence, side by side with our neighbors in this sacred part of the world."

U.N. diplomats said the statement appeared to be deliberately ambiguous, leaving in question whether Israel was viewed as a neighbor. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the issue publicly.

At the same time, Zahar spoke out strongly against Israel's policies and actions.

He told Annan, "We believe in the justice of our cause and the ability of our people to be steadfast in their struggle against military occupation of our land and against Israel's illegal measures."

"The logic of might and the imposition of facts on the ground are invalid and void and will only lead to more destruction and lack of stability," he warned.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Annan was studying the letter carefully.

Israel, the United States and some European countries have said they will have no ties with a Hamas government unless the Islamic group accepts the Quartet demands, and Israel has already stopped transferring tax revenues it collects for the Palestinian Authority. The U.N. says the Palestinian Authority needs at least $60 million to pay salaries for March.

Zahar's letter reaffirmed the U.N.'s responsibility to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and asked Annan to work with the Quartet "to initiate serious and constructive dialogue" with the Palestinian National Authority and its new cabinet.

The Palestinian people want an independent state, with Jerusalem as its capital, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return and to receive compensation, he said.

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