Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who heads the government of national unity in the capital, Tripoli, also referred Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush (above) for investigation over the meeting, which was the first ever between top diplomats of Libya and Israel. Image Credit: AFP file

CAIRO:   Libya's prime minister sacked the foreign minister on Monday in an effort to contain a growing furore over her meeting with her Israeli counterpart last week, which prompted protests overnight in several Libyan cities.

Najla 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 Abdul Hamid 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.

Libyans burn tyres as they protest in Tripoli on August 28, 2023. Image Credit: AFP


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 US 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.


Dbeibah’s Government of National Unity (GNU), which was installed in early 2021 through a UN-backed process, has pushed for stronger ties with all countries involved in Libya, including the UAE and Israel’s main ally the United States.

Libya has had little peace or internal unity since a 2011 Nato-backed uprising, and the GNU’s legitimacy is contested by major factions outside Tripoli including the eastern-based parliament.

The parliament said on Sunday it would hold hearings into the meeting. The Tripoli-based Presidency Council has asked Dbeibah for clarification on the meeting and the High State Council, another important body, condemned it.

After fighting in Tripoli this month, many Libyans will be watching whether armed factions opposed to Dbeibah use the dispute as a pretext to move against him.

Diplomacy has focused on national elections to resolve the internal conflict but last week the U.N. envoy to Libya said a new unified government was needed for a vote to take place, raising questions about international backing for Dbeibah.

Italy has a small military contingent in the Libyan naval base at Misrata and has engaged more closely with the GNU this year over concerns about rising migration, and its energy major Eni said this month it was resuming exploration work in Libya.

In Israel, Yair Lapid, a former foreign minister and prime minister, criticised 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.