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Libyan FM flees to Turkey following backlash over meeting with Israeli counterpart

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Libyan Foreign Minister Najla el-Mangoush has sought refuge in Turkey, officials confirmed to The New York Times on Monday, following an informal meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in Rome, which sparked a wave of unrest across Libyan cities and prompted the government to suspend her.

Salmin Asaad, an aide to el-Mangoush, informed The Times via WhatsApp that she left the country due to “safety concerns.” An official from the Libyan foreign ministry also confirmed her departure to The Associated Press.

The meeting, which took place last week in Rome with her Israeli counterpart and was widely celebrated as a diplomatic breakthrough in Israel, has ignited a firestorm in Libya, leading to the temporary suspension of el-Mangoush. Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeiba announced her suspension in a Facebook post on Sunday night while also saying an investigation into the matter has been launched, Agence France-Presse reported

Oil-rich Libya, which was plunged into chaos after dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in 2011, has been divided since 2014 between the UN-supported government of Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah in Tripoli and a rival administration based in the country’s east.

Angry protesters took to the streets of the capital and other western cities on Sunday night, blocking roads with burning tires and waving Palestinian flags.

Libya’s foreign ministry tried to mitigate the damage by claiming the encounter was “informal and unplanned,” adding that el-Mangoush reaffirmed Libyan support for the Palestinian cause during the meeting. However, this did little to quell public unrest in several Libyan cities, including the capital, Tripoli, as well as Misrata and Zintan.

In Israel the meeting was heralded as “historic” by its foreign ministry, describing it as the first of its kind between the foreign ministers of Israel and Libya — two countries that don’t have diplomatic relations. Cohen said the meeting marked the “first step of ties between Israel and Libya,” mentioning the great potential that lies in relations between the two nations.

Israel’s foreign ministry said the ministers discussed possibilities of cooperation and Israeli humanitarian assistance in fields such as agriculture and water management. Meanwhile, the Libyan foreign ministry downplayed the encounter, insisting there were no discussions, agreements or consultations during the meeting. The ministry reiterated Libya’s “complete and absolute rejection of normalization with the Zionist entity.”

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