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Israel Expels Venezuelan Ambassador


Israel has expelled Venezuela's ambassador, weeks after the Latin American country expelled Israeli diplomats and broke ties with Israel over Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Israel's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it ordered the Venezuelan envoy and his staff out of the country in response to Venezuela's decision to sever relations. The group has until Friday to leave.

Venezuela's Foreign Minister, Nicolas Maduro, told Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television network that Venezuela is proud Israel expelled its diplomats. He called Israeli leaders "criminals" and said their response was "weak" and "late."

The minister rejected accusations that the Venezuelan government was anti-Semitic, complaining that countries criticizing Israel are "automatically added to the list of anti-Semites."

He also dismissed claims that Venezuela supports the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, or the Lebanese-based militant group Hezbollah, which fought a brief war with Israel in 2006.

Venezuela expelled Israel's ambassador on January 6 and broke off diplomatic relations on January 14.

The two countries have had similar tensions before. During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez withdrew his country's ambassador to Israel in protest. He likened Israel's military offensive in Lebanon to "genocide." Israel followed suit, withdrawing its own envoy from Venezuela.

Israel has also expressed concern about friendly relations between Mr. Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly called for Israel's destruction.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.

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