VENEZUELA

Caracas expels Israeli ambassador

Venezuela has expelled Israel's ambassador to Caracas to protest the Israeli offensive in Gaza. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (pictured) on Monday referred to the attacks as "genocide" and accused the US of supporting the strikes.

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AFP - The Venezuelan government Tuesday ordered the expulsion of Israel's ambassador to Caracas to protest the Israeli military's deadly offensive in the Gaza Strip, the foreign ministry said.

"Venezuela has decided to expel Israel's Ambassador" Shlomo Cohen, "and some of the staff at the Israeli Embassy, restating its call for peace and respect for international law," the ministry said in a statement.

The expulsion came as the UN Security Council resumed debate on prospects for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip amid frantic diplomatic efforts to persuade Israel to end an 11-day military onslaught that has killed 660 Palestinians.

Venezuela accused Israel of "flagrant violations of international law" and having "planned to use state terrorism" against the Palestinian people.

"In this tragic and outrageous hour, the people of Venezuela show their unlimited solidarity with the heroic Palestinian people," the statement added.

The Venezuelan mission at the United Nations would seek to pressure the Security Council to apply "urgent and necessary measures to stop this invasion by the state of Israel against Palestinian territory," the statement added.

Venezuela had already condemned Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip and President Hugo Chavez on Monday referred to them as "genocide."

Chavez also accused the US government of supporting the offensive.

Shortly before announcing the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, Caracas said it would set up joint air support, with Arab and Muslim communities and other Latin American countries, to deliver medicine and food to Palestinians in Gaza.

Israeli officials in Caracas were unavaible for comment Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the foreign minister of neighboring Colombia, Jaime Bermudez, called for an end to "all types of military aggression and for a dialogue" between Israelis and Palestinians.

Last week the Colombian government, allied to Israel which has provided military support in its fight against leftist rebels, expressed its "profound sadness and great worry faced with the violence in the Gaza Strip."

Further south, protests took place outside the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, while a Jewish collective, with some 300,000 members, called for demonstrations in support of Israel "in the face of Hamas missile attacks," on Thursday.

About 35 Hamas rockets were fired over the border Tuesday, one striking 45 kilometres (28 miles) inside Israel -- the deepest yet -- and slightly wounding a baby, the army said.

Three civilians and one soldier have been killed by rockets hitting Israel since the offensive began.

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