'Venezuela has shown its true colors'
Israel weighs response to expulsion of envoy from Caracas, may cut relations with Chavez's regime.
Israel is weighing its response to Venezuela's expulsion of its ambassador in Caracas, with the options ranging from kicking Venezuela's envoy out of the country to cutting off diplomatic relations with Hugo Chavez's regime.
Venezuela's Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday that "it has decided to expel the Israeli ambassador and part of the personnel of the Israeli Embassy" to protest the Gaza operation.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel's ambassador Shlomo Cohen has been informed in writing that he and his diplomatic staff must leave Venezuela within 72 hours. He said the letter did not refer to any severing of diplomatic relations.
Chavez has condemned the campaign, condemning Israelis taking part as "murderers" and urging Venezuela's 15,000 Jews to take a stand against the Israeli government.
"Now I hope that the Venezuelan Jewish community speaks out against this barbarism. Do it. Don't you strongly reject all acts of persecution?" Chavez said.
"How far will this barbarism go?," he added in an appearance on state television. "The president of Israel should be taken before an international court together with the president of the United States, if the world had any conscience."
Foreign Ministry spokesman for the Hebrew media Yossi Levy issued a statement saying, "Israel will continue to defend itself from its enemies, including Hamas and Iran, with whom Venezuela has close ties. Every country has to decide which side it is on in this war - on the side of those fighting terror or those supporting it. It is no surprise that Venezuela has again shown the world what side it is on."
Chavez's expulsion of the Israeli ambassador went one step further than his actions during the Second Lebanon War, when he recalled his country's chargÃ© d'affaires from Tel Aviv. Israel responded to that move by temporarily recalling Cohen.
Diplomatic officials said there had been almost no contact between the embassy and the Venezuelan government in recent years, and that the embassy deals primarily with the non-governmental sector in the country, as well as with its Jewish community.
Hamas expressed its appreciation Wednesday for the move and taunted Egypt and Jordan for maintaining their relations with Israel.
"As we look with great satisfaction at this courageous step, we are surprised and deplore that some Arab countries still allow the Israeli ambassador to remain in their capitals," the group said in a statement.
Jerusalem, meanwhile, is bracing for the possibility that Ecuador, one of Venezuela's three main allies in the region, may follow suit. Venezuela's other main allies in Latin America are Nicaragua and Bolivia, none of whom have ambassadors in Israel.
Diplomatic officials said, however, there was little fear of a snowball effect that would impact relations with key players in the region such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru or Mexico.
AP contributed to this report.