Sun, Jan 11, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Israeli ambassador leaves Venezuela amid Gaza friction

AP , CARACAS

The Israeli ambassador to Venezuela left the country on Friday, expelled by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in rejection of Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

Chavez had given Ambassador Shlomo Cohen and some embassy personnel until Friday to leave the country.

“We are harboring the hope that this will be resolved quickly and relations will improve,” Cohen said before boarding a flight to Frankfurt, Germany.

On Thursday, Cohen called the expulsion “the most difficult moment in the more than 50-year history of relations between Venezuela and Israel.”

Chavez called Cohen’s expulsion a “gesture of dignity” in response to Israeli air and ground strikes on Gaza, which have killed at least 777 Palestinians since Dec. 27 — many of them civilians. The Israeli offensive aims to stop the Palestinian militant group Hamas from firing rockets into southern Israel.

Cohen defended the Israel offensive, saying there was “no alternative.”

Jewish community leader David Bittan said the departure of the ambassador and embassy personnel means Israeli residents and Venezuelans with family in Israel have nowhere to go to resolve passport issues.

About 100 pro-Israeli demonstrators held a protest in in El Salvador.

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