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Venezuela says it would welcome Hamas visit
Updated: 2006-02-14 11:23

Venezuela said on Monday it would welcome a visit by the Hamas leadership after the militant group last month won a sweeping Palestinian parliament election victory.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, a foe of Washington, has strengthened ties with Arab governments as the world's No. 5 oil exporter and OPEC member seeks to break its traditional political and economic reliance on the United States.

"If they come, it will be a pleasure," Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel told reporters when asked by reporters whether the government would receive a Hamas delegation.

"What is the problem with that? Aren't they going to be received by Russia, Brazil and Argentina? And what's more, they have a majority with the Palestinian people; they just won an election."

Hamas won an overwhelming victory in January's vote and is expected to form the majority in a new Palestinian government. Western governments rule out negotiating with Hamas unless it renounces violence and accepts Israel's right to exist.

Hamas leader Khalil Abu Laila told Reuters in the Gaza Strip the group would welcome an invitation and considered Venezuela an important nation it would seek to visit.

"Hamas welcomes the remarks by the Venezuelan vice president and we are looking forward to visiting Venezuela and all other liberal states who support the rights of our people," Abu Laila said.

A Brazilian newspaper earlier this month quoted a Hamas spokesman as saying the group planned to visit several Latin American countries to seek aid and political support.

Russia has already invited Hamas to visit for talks. The United States and European Union, however, consider the group a terrorist organization.

Hamas carried out more than 60 suicide bomb attacks against Israeli targets since 2000 in an uprising against Israeli occupation of land Palestinians want for a state. It has largely adhered to a truce since last March.

Chavez, a left-wing ally of Cuba, has riled Washington by positioning himself at the center of regional opposition to U.S. free-market proposals for South America.

Venezuela has also backed Iran in its dispute with the West over Tehran's right to develop nuclear energy.

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