1 Feb 2009

Venezuelan synagogue ransacked

2:59 pm on 1 February 2009

A gang of 15 armed men has broken into the oldest synagogue in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, and ransacked the building.

They occupied the synagogue for five hours, daubing slogans on the walls and desecrating scriptures.

Jewish leaders say tensions have risen, since Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations with Israel last month over its invasion of Gaza.

Venezuela and Israel have had strained relations for some time, and Caracas has been fiercely critical of Israel's military operations in Gaza, which started in late December.

The Venezuelan ambassador and his staff were ordered to leave the country on January 6, and President Hugo Chavez has urged Israelis to stand up against their government.

Israel responded by ordering Venezuelan diplomats to leave, declaring them "persona non grata in Israel" earlier this week.

But Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro condemned the "criminal act of vandalism" at the synagogue.