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(photo credit: AP)
In a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday night, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused Israel of aiming to "exterminate" the Palestinians.
Standing beside Abbas at the presidential palace, Chavez saluted the Palestinians for what he called their "fight against the Yankee empire ... against the genocidal state of Israel, which attacks, which kills, which attempts to exterminate the Palestinian people."
Abbas thanked the Chavez government for its support and said: "We're all on the same path."
Chavez made similar remarks on Wednesday, denouncing Israel as "a murderous arm of the Yankee empire" during a visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Earlier Friday, the PA president dismissed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's plan to temporarily halt new construction of West Bank settlements as insufficient, saying Palestinians do not accept Israel's tack in trying to restart peace negotiations.
During his first visit to Venezuela, the PA president said, "We can't accept the current Israeli government's concept for the negotiations."
"We don't have any condition to restarting negotiations except the commitment of the two sides to the foundations of the peace operation according to the road map, and especially stopping the expansionist activities of the Israelis," Abbas told lawmakers, speaking through an interpreter.
He said Wednesday's announcement by Netanyahu of a 10-month halt to new construction in West Bank Jewish settlements "didn't bring anything new because the occupation is going to continue in the West Bank and in Jerusalem."
"The Israeli prime minister had to choose between peace and occupation." Abbas said. "Lamentably, he chose occupation."
Abbas earlier visited Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Paraguay to build support for efforts toward a Palestinian state.
Latin American leaders backed his calls for Israel to halt settlement construction and also to guarantee that future borders are based on 1967 lines. Netanyahu says such matters must be resolved in negotiations.
Chavez has been strengthening ties with Israel's adversaries while trading verbal barbs with President Shimon Peres, who predicted last week in Argentina that the people of Venezuela and Iran will soon get rid of their leaders.
"They won't hold, not because any of us is going to kill them; their own people are getting tired of them," Peres said.
Chavez interpreted that as a threat. "The president of Israel comes here to South America, and he immediately opens fire against us and against me saying I'm going to disappear soon," Chavez told reporters Wednesday. "Well, let's see who disappears first."
Peres spokeswoman Ayelet Frisch has denied the president threatened anyone, saying he meant Venezuelans and Iranians will replace their leaders by democratic means.
Chavez broke diplomatic ties with Israel in January to protest its military offensive in the Gaza Strip. In April, Palestinian officials opened a diplomatic mission in Venezuela, saying it would be a diplomatic hub in South America.
Abbas told Venezuela's National Assembly that the long history of Mideast negotiations has shown in the past that Israel "doesn't want peace." He compared the barrier of walls and fences separating Israel from Palestinian areas to the Berlin Wall.
"The Palestinian people, like the rest of the peoples of the world, want to live free, peacefully, independent," Abbas said. "When is the world going to hear us?"
Chavez has repeatedly condemned Israel as a "genocidal" government, though he has also assured Jews living in Venezuela he wants to maintain good relations with them.
A leading Jewish community group, that Venezuelan Confederation of Israelite Associations, criticized the government's warm reception of Ahmadinejad this week.
An international Jewish rights group, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, demanded on Thursday that the Organization of American States investigate what it called Venezuela's role in promoting terrorism, condemning Chavez's praise of Carlos the Jackal - the imprisoned Venezuelan notorious for a series of Cold War-era bombings, assassinations and hostage dramas.
Chavez lauded Carlos - whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez - last week as a "revolutionary fighter" who aided the cause of the Palestinians.
Ramirez is serving a life sentence in a French prison for the 1975 murders of two French secret agents and an alleged informant. He also has been linked to the 1976 hijacking of an Air France jet en route to Uganda, as well as bombings in France.
Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's director of international relations, called Chavez's remarks "an abominable message" condoning violence. "He prefers to put himself on the side of the murderers," Samuels said.