By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS -- The Venezuelan government expelled Israelí Ambassador Shlomo Cohen in protest against his country's military offensive in the Gaza Strip, in which hundreds of people are reported to have been killed.
The decision was first announced by the Foreign Ministry, and afterwards by National Assembly President Cilia Flores, the Foreign Minister's wife, in the legislative chamber. Legislators, nearly all of them members of President Hugo Chávez' ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) applauded as Flores spoke.
Chávez has publicly repudiated the Israeli military action, urging the government to withdraw its military forces immediately and to halt the violence. During a debate in the parliament, Deputy Roy Daza repeated the demand and announced a protest march for that afternoon.
By then, legislators had held a minute's silence in the chamber in memory of the dead. Daza went on to urge the international community to take measures aimed at securing the immediate withdrawal of Israeli military forces from the Gaza Strip.
Several other officials at the Israeli embassy in Caracas were also ordered to leave the country. Their identities and posts were not disclosed, and it was not disclosed how much time Cohen and the others had been given to leave the country.
There were no immediate reports of a reaction from the Israeli government. It remained unclear whether it would respond by a reciprocal deportation order of Venezuela's Ambassador to Israel and other diplomats.
Venezuela last year deported United States Ambassador Patrick Duddy after Bolivia expelled the United States ambassador to La Paz, and Washington responded in like fashion. Officials said Duddy had been ordered out in sympathy with Bolivian President Evo Morales, who had also expelled the American ambassador from that country.
On that occasion, neither Caracas nor Washington went as far as to break diplomatic relations. However, the impasse continues and neither country has appointed a new ambassador.Click here to read the Official Communique from the Foreign Ministry.