Chavez denounces Israel as a 'genocidal' government

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The Independent US

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denounced Israel as a "genocidal" government yesterday as he hosted Syrian President Bashar Assad on his first visit to Latin America.

Chavez has drawn close to Syria and Iran, and cut ties with Israel last year to protest its military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

"We have common enemies," Mr Chavez said, describing them as "the Yankee empire, the genocidal state of Israel."

Mr Chavez had particularly strong words for Israel throughout Assad's visit. He reiterated his view on Saturday that the Golan Heights - captured from Syria by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war - should one day be returned to Syria.

"Someday the genocidal state of Israel will be put in its place, in the proper place and hopefully a real democratic state will be born," Mr Chavez said. "But it has become the murderous arm of the Yankee empire - who can doubt it? - which threatens all of us."

Yesterday Mr Assad called Israel a state "based on crime, slaughter."

"It's a state without limits," he said through an interpreter.

Mr Assad praised Mr Chavez for standing up to the US and supporting the Palestinians. Mr Chavez's outspoken stances in favour of Iran and against Israel have given him a following in the Middle East, and Assad referred to him at one point as an "Arab leader."

The two allies spoke to an audience of Syrian immigrants at a Caracas hotel on Sunday before Mr Assad left for Cuba, where he did not speak to reporters upon his arrival at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport.

His regional tour will also eventually take him to Brazil and Argentina.

Before leaving Venezuela, the Syrian leader condemned Israel's blockade of Gaza and said Syria wants peace in the Mideast but not "submission" on Israel's terms.

Assad also sardonically suggested Venezuela and Syria could help form an "an organisation called the 'axis of evil,' in which good governments would participate."

Former US President George Bush once used that term for enemies such as Iran and Syria.