Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah announced on Sunday that he had temporarily suspended Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush and ordered an administrative investigation into her meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in Rome last week.
The meeting, which was hosted by Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, was the first official contact between the top diplomats of Libya and Israel, two countries that have no diplomatic relations. Cohen said in a statement that he discussed with Mangoush the potential for cooperation and the preservation of Jewish heritage sites in Libya.
However, the Libyan Foreign Ministry denied that there was any formal or planned meeting, and claimed that it was a “chance and unofficial encounter” that did not involve any discussions, agreements or consultations. The ministry also reiterated Libya’s position on the Palestinian issue and rejected any normalization with Israel.
The news of the meeting sparked protests in several Libyan cities, where demonstrators burned Israeli flags and chanted slogans against Mangoush and the government. The Presidential Council, which acts as the head of state in Libya, also demanded clarifications from the government and expressed its “complete and absolute rejection of normalization with the Zionist entity”.
The controversy comes at a sensitive time for Libya, which is preparing for national elections in December as part of a UN-backed peace process to end a decade of conflict and division. The country is currently ruled by a transitional government that was formed in March after a political dialogue between rival factions.