Israeli, Libyan foreign ministers discuss ‘possibilities of cooperation’: Ministry

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The foreign ministers of Israel and Libya met last week, Israel’s foreign ministry said Sunday of what is reported to be the first such diplomatic initiative between the two countries.

The unprecedented talks between Eli Cohen and his Libyan counterpart in the Tripoli-based administration, Najla al-Mangoush, took place at a meeting in Rome hosted by Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani.

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“I spoke with the foreign minister about the great potential for the two countries from their relations,” Cohen said in a statement from the foreign ministry.

The two discussed “the importance of preserving the heritage of Libyan Jews, which includes renovating synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in the country”, Cohen was quoted as saying in the statement.

There was no immediate confirmation of the meeting either from Rome or from the authorities of the internationally recognised Libyan government.

Like several other North African countries, Libya has a rich Jewish heritage.

But during decades of rule by former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause, thousands of Jews were expelled from Libya and many synagogues were destroyed.

Gaddafi was overthrown and killed in 2011 by a NATO-backed uprising that plunged the country into more than a decade of chaos and lawlessness.

The country is split politically with rival administrations -- the Tripoli government in the west and another in the east backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

Israel has normalised relations with some Arab countries in recent years as part of US-backed deals known as the Abraham Accords.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government has come under intense criticism from Arab states because of surging violence in the West Bank and for backing expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territory.

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