Fidel Castro says Ukraine to blame for downed airliner, criticizes Israel, US over Gaza action


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HAVANA, Cuba — Retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro on Friday blamed the Ukrainian government in Kiev for the downing of a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane.

He also criticized Israel's ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, and the United States for saying Israel has a right to defend itself.

Castro's comments were made in an opinion column published by state media entitled "Extraordinary Provocation." It came days after he met with Vladimir Putin during the Russian leader's tour to boost ties with Latin American nations including Cuba, which during the Cold War was the Soviet Union's biggest ally in the hemisphere.

Castro wrote that the Malaysian Airlines plane was flying over territory "under the control of the bellicose government of the chocolate king Petro Poroshenko," using the nickname of the Ukrainian president, who leads a large confectionary business.

The plane was shot down Thursday as it flew over a conflicted part of eastern Ukraine, killing 298 people. Responsibility for the attack remains unclear.

He recalled that Cuba stood with Ukraine after its 1986 nuclear accident at the Chernobyl power plant, attending "to the health of many children," and said the island nation "cannot refrain from expressing its repudiation of the action by the same anti-Russian, anti-Ukrainian and pro-imperialist government."

He also criticized Israel's ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, which was launched Thursday, calling it a "repugnant crime," and the United States for saying Israel has a right to defend itself. U.S. President Barack Obama, he said, "backs Goliath against David."

Castro left office provisionally in 2006 when he was stricken by a near-fatal illness. He formally left the presidency in 2008, ceding way for his younger brother Raul to take power.

He maintained a public voice by writing regular opinion columns called "Reflections" that were published across official newspapers and websites, and read out in their entirety by state TV news anchors. In 2012, he announced that he was retiring as a columnist as well, although he has continued to publish occasionally.

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