Venezuela ready to receive Hamas visit ‘with pleasure’

Venezuela said Monday it would welcome leaders from the Hamas movement “with pleasure” if they visit the country as part of a South American tour following victory in Palestinian elections.

Asked if the Venezuelan government will receive the Islamic militant group, Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel told reporters, “Of course we will. What is the problem?”

“If they come, with pleasure,” Rangel said. “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 recognizes Israel and renounces violence.

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

The United States and Europe consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

President Hugo Chavez, however, frequently criticizes what he calls U.S. 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 recognize an independent Palestinian state.

Rangel said earlier 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 didn’t know when Hamas would arrive because the visit was not yet confirmed.

Moscow offered to meet this month with Hamas leaders.