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Palestinian officials established formal ties on Monday with Venezuela and opened a diplomatic mission in the South American country.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki thanked President Hugo Chavez's government for its support during the recent Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip, which prompted the Venezuelan leader to break off relations with Israel.

Venezuelan-Palestinian relations have warmed as tensions have grown between Chavez's government and Israel.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said the Palestinian cause is "like our own," while al-Malki praised Chavez as "the most popular leader in the Arab world," in part for his staunch support of Palestinians.

The two officials signed a document formally establishing diplomatic relations, and a Palestinian Embassy in Caracas was inaugurated on Monday afternoon.

Al-Malki said it is one of various embassies and representative offices throughout Latin America in countries from Cuba to Chile. Palestinian officials say there are 97 embassies and representative offices worldwide.

Venezuela expelled Israeli diplomats in January to protest the Gaza offensive, and Israel later responded by kicking out Venezuelan envoys. Chavez has labeled Israeli leaders "genocidal."

Maduro accused Israel of persecuting Palestinians, saying they "deserve to live in justice, in peace, in freedom and independence."

Al-Malki said Palestinian officials hope the new embassy in Caracas will serve as a sort of hub for diplomatic efforts across South America.

"We also hope to open more Palestinian embassies all over the continent because for us it's a great priority... to focus on this continent due to the political importance it has," the Palestinian official said.