Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Friday that U.S. backing of Israel is responsible for flaming tensions in the Middle East and putting the world on course toward another "Holocaust."

"The fundamental blame falls again on the U.S. empire. It's the empire that armed and supported the abuses of the Israeli elite, which has invaded, abused and defied the United Nations for a long time," Chavez said in a speech during a military act in Caracas.

"I'll seize this opportunity to condemn categorically and fully the aggression that the Israeli elite is carrying out against innocents over there in the Middle East," he said.

CountryWatch: Venezuela

Chavez was referring to a new explosion of Mideast violence this week as Israel's war planes began striking Lebanon after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others Wednesday in a cross-border raid into Israel. In response, Hezbollah has fired hundreds of rockets at northern Israel.

The Venezuelan leader charged that Israel is using excessive force.

"Are we going to bomb cities and tell them that we won't stop bombing until they return the soldier? That's crazy," he said.

"Worse, it's craziness with nuclear bombs. (The Israelis) have their weapons of mass destruction and nobody criticizes them, nobody says anything because the empire is behind them," Chavez said.

Blaming the escalation on Washington's undue influence, Chavez said: "The U.S. empire's desire to dominate has no limits and that could take this world to a real Holocaust. May God save us."

Chavez has become one of the most ferocious critics of U.S. foreign policy, even though his oil-producing country remains closely tied to the United States, its top market, through billions of dollars (euros) in annual crude sales.