Caracas protesters cheer Israeli envoy's expulsion
The Associated Press
January 8, 2009
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Protesters condemning Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip sprayed graffiti and hurled shoes at the country's embassy in Venezuela on Thursday, backing President Hugo Chavez's decision to expel the Israeli ambassador.
Demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and chanted "Gaza, hold on! The world is rising up!" Journalists estimated the crowd at about 1,000.
Protesters broke windows as they threw shoes and firecrackers at the seven-story building housing the Embassy and spray-painted "Israel Get Out" and "Long live a free Palestine" on its storefronts.
Chavez has ordered Ambassador Shlomo Cohen to leave in protest over the attacks in Gaza. Israel says Cohen was given until Friday to depart, and the nation is considering expelling Venezuelan diplomats in response.
"We are leaving without hate or rancor. On the contrary, we have much fondness for the Venezuelan people," Cohen told The Associated Press on Thursday at a gathering at a Jewish community center in eastern Caracas.
More than 700 have been killed since Israel launched the offensive Dec. 27, aiming to halt Palestinian rocket attacks into southern Israel.
The protesters included Venezuelans of Arab descent and Chavez supporters with no links to the Middle East.
"I disagree with them killing all those people," said Robert Cardenas, a 43-year-old art museum employee.
Chavez has long been critical of Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. He accuses the Israeli government of acting as an arm of Washington.
Jewish community leader Abraham Levy, president of the Venezuelan Confederation of Israelite Associations, has said the diplomatic break attempts to demonize Israel. Venezuela's Jewish community numbers nearly 15,000.
*Associated Press Writer Rachel Jones contributed to this report.