Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has agreed to upgrade relations with the Palestinian Authority in support of its quest for an independent Palestinian state.
Mr. Chavez hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Caracas Friday and promised to open a Venezuelan embassy in the West Bank, where Mr. Abbas's government is based.
The Venezuelan president - a harsh critic of Israel - praised the Palestinians for what he called their struggle against a "genocidal state of Israel" that seeks to "exterminate" their people.
Mr. Chavez's government also signed a series of aid agreements with Mr. Abbas's delegation, including an offer of scholarships for Palestinian students.
Mr. Abbas thanked Venezuela for its support. He also reiterated his rejection of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer to restart peace talks by freezing new housing construction in West Bank Jewish settlements for 10 months.
In a speech to Venezuelan lawmakers, Mr. Abbas said Israel's prime minister faced a choice between "peace and occupation," and "chose occupation." Mr. Abbas has refused to resume peace talks until Israel stops all construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Mr. Netanyahu's settlement freeze proposed this week does not apply to east Jerusalem or to already approved housing projects in the West Bank. Israel considers Jerusalem to be its undivided capital, while Palestinians want the city's eastern sector as the capital of a future state.
President Abbas visited Venezuela at the end of a South American tour that also included Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Paraguay.
President Chavez is a strong critic of both Israel and the United States. He cut ties with Israel in January to protest its military offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.