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Venezuela synagogue suspects held

Desecrated synagogue in Caracas, Venezuela (31/01/2009)
Jewish leaders say tensions have risen in recent weeks

Eleven people - including seven police officers - have been arrested over the ransacking of a synagogue in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

Armed men broke into the building last week and daubed slogans including "Jews get out" on the walls before destroying religious objects.

Critics of President Hugo Chavez have accused him of stoking anti-Semitism by pursuing anti-Israeli foreign policies.

But Mr Chavez condemned the attack and promised to find those responsible.

At least one of those arrested was reported to be a security guard working at the synagogue.

Elias Farache, president of Venezuela's Jewish Association, welcomed the arrests.

"We thank the authorities for the quick detention of the suspects," he told the Associated Press.

"We also want to thank all of those who showed their solidarity with us."

Earlier, Mr Farache said the gang had tied and gagged security guards before destroying offices and the place where holy books were kept.

Jewish leaders say tensions have been rising since Venezuela broke diplomatic ties with Israel last month over its military offensive in Gaza.

The ambassador to Venezuela and his staff were ordered to leave the country on 6 January, and Mr 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".

But Venezuelan ministers have been quick to deny any connection between the diplomatic spat with Israel and the synagogue attack.

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

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