CARACAS - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday condemned an attack on a Caracas synagogue amid tense relations with Israel, suggesting it was plotted by opposition leaders to tarnish his self-styled socialist revolution.
Armed men broke into a synagogue in Venezuela's capital late on Friday night, destroying religious objects and spray-painting walls in an incident that sparked outrage and complaints by the Jewish community of growing anti-Semitism.
The socialist leader last month expelled the Israeli ambassador and cut diplomatic ties in protest over the military campaign in Gaza that killed nearly 1,300 people.
"We condemn the actions on the synagogue of Caracas," Chavez said in a televised speech. "It must be asked ... who benefits from these violent incidents. It is not the government, nor the people, nor the revolution."
In an often cryptic response, he suggested opposition leaders plotted the attack to reduce his chances in a February 15 referendum on a constitutional amendment that would let him stay in office after his term ends in 2013.
The attackers, who sacked both the synagogue and the administrative centre of the Venezuelan Israelite Association, wrote racist slogans such as "Jews get out."
Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, in a ceremony on Saturday to welcome back Venezuelan diplomats expelled from Israel, promised to investigate the crimes and jail those responsible.
"This is an attack of anti-Semitic nature," said Elias Farache, of the Venezuelan Israelite Association. "We feel uncomfortable, threatened and intimidated."
The Argentine office of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish human rights organisation, condemned the attack and warned of an anti-Semitic campaign in Venezuela that has heated up since the January attack on Gaza.
Chavez in 2005 sparked outrage in the Jewish community by stating that those who killed Jesus Christ had become the owners of the world's riches. A Venezuelan Jewish organisation later came to Chavez's defence, denying the statement was anti-Semitic.
His close relations with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for wiping Israel off the face of the Earth, and several police raids on Jewish community centres have further fuelled complaints of anti-Semitism.
The Wiesenthal Centre in its press release pointed out that earlier this month a pro-government website which has been featured on state television called for a boycott of Jewish-owned stores and malls to protest the attack on Gaza.
The article, entitled "How to support Palestine in the face of the artificial state of Israel," called for demonstrations in front of Jewish organizations such as the synagogue in the Mariperez neighbourhood of Caracas.
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