Venezuela cuts ties with Israel over Gaza attacks

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela has cut ties with Israel in protest over its military offensive in the Gaza Strip, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

Last week President Hugo Chavez expelled Israel’s ambassador from Venezuela over the attacks, which have sparked international condemnation.

“Venezuela ... has definitively decided to break diplomatic ties with the state of Israel given the inhumane persecution of the Palestinian people carried out by the authorities of Israel,” said a statement read over state television.

Israel’s 20-day offensive, launched to halt rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas Islamist militants, has killed more than 1,000 Palestinians. A Palestinian rights group said 670 of those killed were civilians. Thirteen Israelis have been killed -- three civilians hit by Hamas rocket fire and 10 soldiers.

Socialist Chavez is a harsh critic of both Israel and the United States and has called the Israeli offensive in Gaza a Palestinian “holocaust.”

Bolivian President Evo Morales, a close Chavez ally, on Wednesday also cut ties with Israel to the protest the attacks.

An envoy from Israel, which is under increasing pressure to negotiate a ceasefire, is scheduled to meet Egyptian mediators in Cairo on Thursday.

Chavez in 2006 threatened to break ties with Israel over its five-week war in Lebanon in a diplomatic spat that led both countries to withdraw their envoys.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; editing by Mohammad Zargham