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Synagogue desecrated in Venezuela

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Cameras capture the extent of the damage

An armed gang has ransacked the oldest Jewish synagogue in the Venezuelan capital Caracas after occupying the building for several hours.

About 15 unidentified men broke into the building before daubing graffiti on the walls and desecrating scriptures.

They also called for Jewish people to be expelled from the country.

Jewish leaders say tensions have risen since Venezuela broke diplomatic relations with Israel this month over its recent military offensive in Gaza.

Elias Farache, president of Venezuela's Jewish Association, said the gang had tied and gagged security guards before destroying offices and the place where holy books were kept.

Anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli slogans were painted on the walls.

"Never in the history of Venezuela's Jewish community have we been the target of such an aggression," said Mr Farache.

"The climate is very tense. We feel threatened, intimidated, attacked."

'Moral force'

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 6 January, 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.

"We call all the Venezuelan people, the entire Venezuelan community, to reject these actions, with the same moral force with which we reject the crimes committed against the Palestinian people," he said.

Venezuelan Information Minister Jesse Chacon also condemned the attack and denied it had any connection with the government.

He said the government's "excellent relationship" with Venezuela's Jewish community was in no way affected by Israel's actions.

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