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Libyan Foreign Minister suspended after a meeting in Rome with Israeli counterpart, reportedly fled the country

The Tripoli-based Government of National Unity called the meeting in Rome between Njla Mangoush and Eli Cohen “accidental, unofficial and not planned in advance.’

Israeli officials reportedly established contact with Libya’s unity government several months ago.

The Libyan Government of National Unity’s Prime Minister Abd al-Hamid al-Dabaiba has suspended his Foreign Minister, Najla Mangoush following her meeting last week in Rome with Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen.

Mangoush is being investigated and has been placed on “administrative suspension.” But according to the al-Wasat newspaper, she left Libya on a private jet two hours after her suspension and headed to Turkey.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Unity issued a statement calling the meeting in Rome “accidental, unofficial and not planned in advance.”

“Libya categorically denies the exploitation by the Hebrew and international press and their attempt to confer upon the incident the character of meetings,” said the statement, which stressed Tripoli’s “complete and absolute rejection of normalization with the Zionist entity” and affirmed its “full commitment to the issues of the Arab and Islamic nations, foremost of which is the Palestinian cause.”

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Libyan Presidential Council leader Mohammed Menfi called on Prime Minister Dabaiba to provide an explanation regarding the meeting. He said the meeting between Mangoush and Cohen “does not reflect the foreign policy of the Libyan state,” and is “a violation of Libyan laws that criminalize normalization with the Zionist entity.”

The news of the meeting brought protesters out into the streets of Libya, during which Israeli flags were burned, and there were chants in solidarity with the Palestinians.

The development comes hours after Jerusalem revealed that Cohen and Mangoush had met to discuss the possibility of normalizing ties.

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During the first-ever meeting between representatives of the two countries, Cohen offered humanitarian help to the conflict-wrecked North African nation and discussed efforts to preserve the heritage of Libyan Jewry.

Israeli officials reportedly established contact with Libya’s unity government several months ago.

A Libyan government official told the Associated Press that the possibility of Libya joining the Abraham Accords was first discussed in January in a meeting in Tripoli between al-Dbeibeh and CIA Director William Burns.

The source told AP that the Libyan premier initially gave approval to Burns’s normalization proposal but withdrew from his position due to fears of a public backlash in the country that historically supported the Palestinian cause.

“The historic meeting with the Libyan foreign minister, Najla Mangoush, is the first step in the relationship between Israel and Libya,” Cohen said in a statement, explaining that “given Libya’s size and strategic location, relations are of great importance and have huge potential for the State of Israel.”

Torn by a bloody civil war since a NATO-supported rebellion removed dictator Muammar Gaddafi from power in 2011, Libya has been divided between rival governments in Tripoli and Benghazi for more than a decade.

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