Venezuela plans to open an embassy in Palestinian territories and upgrade its ties to ambassadorial level, President Hugo Chavez said on Friday, to support Palestinians in their struggle against Israel.
"We have decided to designate an ambassador and open an embassy in Palestine," Chavez said after talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"We now have a charge d'affaires; we will name an ambassador in coming days as part of accords to boost our bilateral relations," he said.
Among aid agreements signed Friday were scholarships for 20 Palestinians to study medicine in Venezuela. Chavez said he saw Venezuela offering many more educational grants.
"We must tell the Palestine people how many scholarships we will give to Palestinian youth so they come and study what they need," he said. "They can be short and long, pre-graduate or post-graduate, technical and training studies."
In January, Venezuela cut diplomatic relations with Israel over the Israeli offensive in Gaza of nearly a year ago, which Chavez then called a Palestinian "holocaust."
On Friday, he again cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in near-apocalyptic terms. He said:
"We ... are on the side of the Palestinian people's memorable struggle ... against the genocidal state of Israel that knocks down, kills and aims to terminate the Palestinian people."
Chavez ordered his education minister to circulate maps Abbas gave him to illustrate the small dimensions of the Gaza Strip, where he said 1.5 million people lived in "concentration camp" like conditions, their movements to the outside world virtually blocked by Israel.
"We (Venezuelans) should devote the entire force of our hearts and souls towards the creation of a Palestinian state," he said. "Venezuela is Palestine; Palestine is Venezuela, we have a common struggle."