Asked whether the Venezuelan government will receive the Islamic resistance group, Jose Vicente Rangel, the country's vice-president, told reporters on Monday: "Of course we will. What is the problem?

 

"If they come, with pleasure. They've just won an election."

 

The United States, the European Union and the United Nations have insisted they would not deal with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority and threatened to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in aid unless the group recognises Israel and renounces violence.

 

Hamas, responsible for scores of deadly attacks against Israelis, has refused to abandon its calls for Israel's destruction or give up its weapons.

 

"If they come, with pleasure. They've just won an election"

Jose Vicente Rangel,
Venezuelan vice-president

The United States and Europe consider Hamas a terrorist organisation.

 

Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president, frequently criticises what he calls US imperialist dominance in world affairs and has often expressed sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

 

The leftist leader has said his government will be one of the first to recognise an independent Palestinian state.

 

Rangel said this month that Hamas was expected to visit Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela as part of a regional tour to celebrate its electoral victory.

 

On Monday, he said he did not know when Hamas would arrive because the visit was not confirmed.

 

Hamas unwelcome

 

The New York-based American Jewish Congress has urged Latin American countries not to welcome Hamas.

 

Jack Rosen, the chairman of the Jewish group, said on Thursday: "Prematurely granting Hamas an international reception is not pro-Palestinian, or pro-peace," and would endorse its anti-Semitic views, violent tactics and denial of Israel's right to exist.

 

Until it renounces those ideas and actions, "Hamas should remain in the diplomatic deep freeze," he said.

 

Moscow offered to meet this month with Hamas leaders.