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Chavez Recalls Venezuelan Ambassador to Israel

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he has withdrawn his country's ambassador to Israel to show his "indignation" over the military offensive in Lebanon.

"We have ordered the withdrawal of our ambassador in Israel," Chavez said Thursday in a televised speech, calling Israeli attacks in Lebanon "genocide."

"It really causes indignation to see how the state of Israel continues bombing, killing ... with gringo planes, with all of the power they have, with the support of the United States — so many innocents, children, women," Chavez said after a military parade in the northwestern state of Falcon.

CountryWatch: Venezuela

The leftist Venezuelan leader has repeatedly criticized Israel's offensive aimed at Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, noting mounting civilian deaths and saying the United Nations should act to halt the violence.

"It's hard explain to oneself how nobody does anything to stop this horror," said Chavez, whose government until recently said it had good relations with Israel.

While Venezuela apparently will maintain diplomatic relations with Israel, the ambassador's recall is one of the strongest possible protests short of severing ties. Chavez has similarly called home ambassadors from Mexico and Peru in the past year after exchanging insults with their leaders.

Chavez, an outspoken critic of Washington, also criticized what he called a relentless "immoral campaign" by the U.S. government to keep Venezuela from obtaining a seat on the U.N. Security Council. U.S. officials have backed Guatemala for the seat, saying Venezuela would be a disruptive influence on the council.

He said he hoped Venezuela could be a voice "for peace, for life, for justice" in the United Nations. The General Assembly is to decide the issue in a secret-ballot vote in October.

Chavez suggested a U.S. veto has kept the Security Council from taking strident action against the Israeli assaults, which have coincided with Hezbollah rocket fire into Israel.

The Venezuelan leader, a close ally and friend of Cuban President Fidel Castro, spoke after returning from an international tour that took him to Argentina, Belarus, Russia, Qatar, Iran, Vietnam, Mali and Benin. While in Iran, Chavez called the Israeli offensive in Lebanon a "fascist outrage."

"The Israeli elite repeatedly criticize Hitler's actions against the Jews, and indeed Hitler's actions must be criticized, not just against the Jews but against the world," Chavez said during his visit to Iran, adding: "It's also fascism what Israel is doing to the Palestinian people ... terrorism and fascism."

Venezuela has both Arab immigrant and Jewish communities, and officials have insisted the government will continue to fully respect the Jewish community despite Venezuela's strong opposition to Israel's war in Lebanon.

Some in the South American country have protested the fighting in Lebanon, including one group that burned an Israeli flag outside the Israeli Embassy last month. State television also has shown images from Lebanon of people weeping over dead relatives amid the ruins of bombed neighborhoods.