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Leaders from Hamas are planning a South American tour, including visits to Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, Venezuela's vice president said Friday.
Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said he did not foresee any political problems with the visit by Hamas, even though many Western nations are still weighing whether to cut aid to Palestinians after the terrorist group's decisive victory in last week's parliamentary elections.
"I don't see any inconvenience that a movement which just had a landslide election victory, that is the product of the political will of an entire people, can't do a political tour," said Rangel, a close ally of President Hugo Chavez.
"The group Hamas, which is the organization that handily won the Palestinian elections ... has announced that it is going to do a tour of different Latin American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, I believe, and also Venezuela," said Rangel.
"We still haven't received the official information," said Rangel, adding that he didn't know when the Hamas delegation would visit Venezuela.
In a letter sent to the embassies of Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia in Washington, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center urged the governments of each country not to receive Hamas leaders.
"We urge your government to bar such a visit of representatives of an avowed terrorist organization that dispatches suicide bombers against civilian targets and openly calls for the destruction of the state of Israel," Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Jewish rights group, said in the letter.
Chavez has moved to strengthen diplomatic relations with countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia while distancing Venezuela, the world's fifth largest oil exporter, from the United States. Chavez has repeatedly accused the United States of conspiring to topple his left-leaning government, an allegation Washington denies.
Opposition leader Alfonso Marquina, a member of the Democratic Action party, said the Chavez administration was making a mistake by seeking to establish relations with such "anti-democratic" and militant political organizations.
"Mr. Chavez has a natural tendency to ally himself with bellicose groups, groups that are considered to be a threat to the world's civilized, democratic societies," said Marquina.