Head of Libya’s Government of National Unity (GNU) Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah has dismissed Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush after her meeting with her Israeli counterpart triggered protests, a Libyan government source said on Monday.
Dbeibah had earlier referred Mangoush for investigation over the meeting, which was the first ever between top diplomats of Libya and Israel.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Mangoush met in Rome last week.
Cohen said they discussed the importance of preserving the heritage of Libya’s former Jewish community, including renovating synagogues and cemeteries. The talks also touched on possible Israeli assistance for humanitarian issues, agriculture and water management, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
The Libyan foreign ministry, meanwhile, sought to downplay the importance of the meeting as “unprepared and an unofficial meeting” during a meeting with Italy’s foreign minister. It said in a statement that Mangoush’s encounter with Cohen didn’t include “any talks, agreements or consultations.”
Dbeibah had earlier suspended Mangoush, suggesting he was not aware of the meeting. However, two senior Libyan government officials told The Associated Press he did know about the talks between his foreign minister and the Israeli chief diplomat.
One of the officials said Dbeibah gave the green light for the meeting last month when he was on a visit to Rome. His office arranged the encounter in coordination with Mangoush, he said.
The second official said the meeting lasted for about two hours and Mangoush briefed the prime minister directly after her return to Tripoli. The official said the meeting crowned US-brokered efforts to have Libya join a series of Arab countries establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.
The official said normalization of relations between Libya and Israel was first discussed in a meeting between Dbeibah, and CIA Director William Burns, who visited the Libyan capital in January.
Dbeibah gave initial approval for joining the US-brokered Abraham Accords, but he was concerned about public backlash in a country known for its past support for the Palestinian cause, the official said.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity for their safety.
Sunday’s announcement of the meeting prompted scattered protests in Tripoli, where the GNU is based, and other towns in western Libya. Protesters stormed the foreign ministry headquarters to condemn the meeting, while others attacked and burned a residence for the prime minister in Tripoli, according to local reports.
In the town of Zawiya protesters burned the Israeli flag, while others held the Palestinian flag. There were also protests in the city of Misrata, a stronghold for Dbeibah, according to footage circulated on social media and verified by The Associated Press.
Khalid al-Mishri, who was the chair of the State Council, a Tripoli-based legislative body, condemned the meeting and called for the dismissal of Dbeibah’s government.
“This government has crossed all prohibited lines and must be brought down,” he wrote on the X platform, previously known as Twitter.
The east-based House of Representatives also slammed the meeting as a “legal and moral crime.” It called for an emergency session Monday in the eastern city of Benghazi. Libya criminalizes normalization of ties with Israel, according to a 1957 law.
In Israel, Yair Lapid, a former foreign minister and prime minister, criticized Cohen for going public with the sensitive meeting.
“Countries of the world this morning are looking at the irresponsible leak of the meeting of the Israeli and Libyan foreign minister and asking themselves: is it possible to manage foreign relations with this country? Is it possible to trust this country?” Lapid said in a statement.