The Libyan foreign minister has fled to Turkey out of fear for her safety, an aide said Monday, amid a growing uproar in Libya over news that she met informally with her Israeli counterpart in Rome last week.
The minister, Najla el-Mangoush, flew to Turkey because of “safety concerns,” Salmin Asaad, the aide, said over WhatsApp, saying that “the people were angry” and setting fires in protest.
The prime minister of Libya’s internationally recognized government, Abdul Hamid Dbeiba, announced on Facebook on Sunday night that he was temporarily suspending Ms. el-Mangoush and launching an investigation into the matter.
The Libyan foreign ministry said that Ms. el-Mangoush’s encounter with the Israeli foreign minister in Rome last week was “informal and unplanned,” and that in the meeting she had reaffirmed Libyan support for the Palestinians.
But that did little to quell protests in several Libyan cities, including the capital, Tripoli, as well as Misrata and Zintan. Libyan social media accounts said that protesters had set fire to a home belonging to the prime minister on Sunday night, but those reports could not immediately be confirmed.
The rage that greeted Ms. el-Mangoush’s contact with her Israeli counterpart, Eli Cohen, was a reminder that for all the fanfare around Israel’s U.S.-brokered normalization deals with three Arab countries that had previously refused to recognize its existence, much of the Arab world remains deeply hostile to Israel and devoted to the Palestinian cause.
In Israel, their meeting, hosted by Italy’s foreign minister, was being hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough between the two countries. A statement by Israel’s foreign ministry described the encounter as “historic,” the first-ever meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries, which do not have diplomatic relations.
Mr. Cohen described it as “the first step of ties between Israel and Libya,” adding, “Libya’s great size and strategic location afford huge importance to contacts with it and huge potential for Israel.”
Mr. Cohen said he had spoken to Ms. el-Mangoush about the great potential that lay in relations between the two countries and about the importance of preserving Jewish heritage in Libya, including renovating synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in the country.
The statement added that the foreign ministers discussed the historical ties between the two nations and the possibility of cooperation and Israeli humanitarian assistance, including help in areas such as agriculture and water management. The ministry distributed separate photos of the two ministers, but no photographs of the actual meeting, and did not elaborate on how it came about.
A statement from the Libyan foreign ministry made the meeting sound quite different. The Libyan statement played it down as a chance encounter at best, one that “did not include any discussions, agreements or consultations.”
It said Ms. el-Mangoush had reaffirmed Libya’s support for the Palestinian cause and reiterated Libya’s “complete and absolute rejection of normalization with the Zionist entity.”