Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez
Venezuelan dictator Hugo ChavezIsrael News Photo: (file)

The government of Venezuela announced Wednesday morning that it will expel Israel's ambassador in response to the IDF military operation in Gaza, which it condemned roundly.

"In this tragic and indignant hour, the people of Venezuela manifest their unconditional solidarity with the heroic Palestinian people, share in the sadness that overcomes thousands of families through the loss of their loved ones, and extends to them the hand by affirming that the government of Venezuela will not rest until it sees those responsible for these criminal atrocities severely punished," the Venezuelan foreign minister said in a statement read on state television by the anchor.

Venezuela also claimed it is trying to supply food and medical assistance to Gaza, according to the Associated Press. Humanitarian aid to Gaza is primarily supplied through United Nations-based international aid agencies and shipments donated from time to time by Egypt and Jordan.

Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez ordered his Foreign Ministry to expel Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Cohen and all embassy personnel. Chavez has been a loud and frequent critic of the U.S. and its allies. 

Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would decide later in the day whether to reciprocate and expel Venezuelan diplomats from Israel in response to the move.

He added that Cohen had been notified in a letter from the government in Caracas that he and his staff had 72 hours in which to pack up and leave the country. No mention was made of officially severing diplomatic ties, however -- a significant omission.

The Venezuelan president has developed a close relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the past two years in a mutual effort to back other countries' "attempting to liberate themselves from the imperialist yoke." Chavez has stated support for Hizbullah and for the Iranian nuclear program but expressed objections to Ahmadinejad's statements that Israel should be eliminated.

Israel's Foreign Ministry responded in a statement that the Jewish State will continue to protect itself from its enemies, including Hamas and Iran, Voice of Israel government radio reported Wednesday morning.

Every country must decide for itself whether it supports terrorism, or chooses to fight it, the Foreign Ministry said.