Venezuela ordered the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador on Tuesday to protest Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

President Hugo Chavez has condemned the campaign in Gaza, where nearly 600 Palestinians have been killed in ground and air strikes. Israel launched the attacks Dec. 27 to stop Palestinian militants from firing rockets into southern Israel.

Venezuela's Foreign Ministry announced the decision in a statement, saying it "has decided to expel the Israeli ambassador and part of the personnel of the Israeli embassy."

Chavez earlier condemned the Israelis carrying out the military campaign as "murderers" and urged Jews in Venezuela 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 said 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."

The foreign minister said its U.N. mission is joining with other countries in demanding the Security Council "apply urgent and necessary measures to stop this invasion."

Officials could not immediately be reached at the Israeli Embassy in Caracas, which had closed by the time of the announcement.

Chavez has long been critical of the Israeli government's policies in the Middle East and has supported the Palestinians' stance in the conflict.