Libyans protest at minister’s meeting with Israeli counterpart

Angry demonstrations took place in the city of Al Zawiya, west of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, Sunday evening, over the meeting of the Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs of the National Unity Government with her Israeli counterpart.

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Talks between Najla al-Mangoush and Israeli Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, took place secretly last week in Rome sparking anger and controversy throughout the country.

Libyan citizens condemned the meeting, which they described as “normalisation with an enemy.” 

One of the country’s rival prime ministers, Abdulhamid Dbeibah, has suspended al-Mangoush. 

The Libyan foreign ministry described it as a “chance and unofficial encounter”, but news of the meeting had already led to street protests in several Libyan cities.

An Israeli statement described the meeting as the first such diplomatic initiative between the two countries.

‘Chance encounter’

“I spoke with the foreign minister about the great potential for the two countries from their relations,” Cohen said.

But the Libyan foreign ministry said Mangoush had “refused to meet with any party” representing Israel.

“What happened in Rome was a chance and unofficial encounter, during a meeting with his Italian counterpart, which did not involve any discussion, agreement or consultation,” Libyan officials added. 

The minister said she had reiterated “in a clear and unambiguous manner Libya’s position regarding the Palestinian cause”, the statement said.

But news of the meeting sparked protests in some Libyan cities. Large numbers of residents in Libyan cities, including Tripoli, Misrata, Yefren and Zlitan, protested by setting tires on fire, blocking main roads and burning Israeli flags.  

In Israel’s foreign ministry statement, Cohen was quoted as saying the two discussed “the importance of preserving the heritage of Libyan Jews, which includes renovating synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in the country.”

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“Libya’s size and strategic location offer a huge opportunity for the State of Israel,” he added.

Since the former leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed in 2011 by a NATO-backed uprising, the country has been plunged into more than a decade of chaos and lawlessness.

The country is split politically with rival administrations – the Tripoli government in the west and another in the east, backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

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