Bolivia cuts diplomatic ties with Israel
(Adds comments from Israeli consul, changes byline)
By Diego Ore
LA PAZ, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Wednesday his country cut diplomatic ties with Israel over the offensive in the Gaza Strip that has killed hundreds of Palestinians.
"Bolivia had diplomatic relations with Israel," Morales said in a speech before diplomats in the government palace. "Considering these grave attacks against ... humanity, Bolivia will stop having diplomatic relations with Israel."
Morales, a leftist, is a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who on Jan. 6 expelled Israel's ambassador in protest over Gaza.
Venezuela is a major supplier of aid to Bolivia.
"The crimes committed by the Israeli government affect peace and stability in the world," said Morales, before calling the Israeli invasion of Gaza "a genocide."
Israel launched its campaign in Gaza in late December with the declared aim of halting rocket attacks by Hamas militants into Israel. The Palestinian death toll in the offensive is nearing 1,000, while Israel says 13 Israelis have been killed.
"We haven't received official confirmation from the Bolivian government," the Israeli consul in La Paz, Roberto Nelkenbaum, told Reuters by telephone.
The diplomat said he was "surprised and sad" after hearing Morales' comments in local media and that the two countries have had good diplomatic relations for more than 50 years.
In his speeches, Morales often attacks the United States, a main ally of Israel.
Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador in September after accusing him of encouraging violent protests against his government. Chavez followed suit, evicting the U.S. envoy from the oil-rich country shortly afterward, in "solidarity" with Morales.
Since taking office three years ago, Morales has taken steps to move his country away from U.S. influence and has warmed to Venezuela, Iran and Russia instead. (Additional reporting by Eduardo Garcia and Carlos Quiroga; editing by David Wiessler)
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