Libya’s prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh Monday dismissed Najla Mangoush, the country’s foreign minister, to control the protests that erupted countrywide following her meeting with Israel’s foreign minister.
Mangoush had said her meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in Rome was unplanned and informal, but an Israeli official told Reuters it had lasted two hours and was approved “at the highest levels in Libya”.
The meeting is contentious because Libya does not formally recognise Israel and there is widespread public support across the Libyan political spectrum for the Palestinian cause. Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
The dispute over the meeting has fed into Libya’s internal political crisis, giving ammunition to Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah’s internal critics at a moment when the future of his interim government was already in question.
Protesters demonstrated in front of Libya’s Foreign Ministry late on Sunday, causing some damage outside the building, where a large security presence was visible early on Monday. Protests took place in other parts of Tripoli, as well as other cities.
Burning tyres blocked some major roads in Tripoli on Monday but there was no sign of violence.
Mangoush’s office tried to quell the anger late on Sunday, saying she had rejected a request for an official meeting with Cohen, but that they had met during an unplanned encounter while she was meeting Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani.
The Israeli official disputed that account. “The meeting was coordinated at the highest levels in Libya and lasted almost two hours. The Libya prime minister sees Israel as a possible bridge to the West and the U.S. administration,” the official said.
Since 2020 Israel has normalised relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan through the so-called “Abraham Accords” brokered by the United States, which sees further agreements as a key regional goal.