Cohen’s office had just announced that the two foreign ministers had met in Rome last week. According to Jerusalem, the conversation mediated by Italy was about “the great potential of the relationship between the two countries”. This is a “first step in relations between Israel and Libya,” Cohen said on Sunday. “Libya’s size and strategic location offer an immense opportunity for the State of Israel,” the Jerusalem statement said.

Accordingly, the meeting took place under the patronage of Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani. Neither Rome nor the Libyan government initially confirmed the meeting.

The Libyan Foreign Ministry later described the meeting as an “accidental and unofficial” encounter. The minister “reaffirmed Libya’s position on the Palestinian cause in a clear and unequivocal manner,” it said in a statement on Sunday evening. Al-Mangush “refused to speak to any party representing the Israeli entity” and “categorically” maintains this stance.

The three-member Presidential Council, which represents the three regions of Libya, had demanded “clarification” from the government after the meeting became known, as the Libyan television channel al-Ahrar TV reported, citing a letter from Presidential Council spokeswoman Najiwa Wheba. The spokeswoman confirmed the letter.

It said the meeting reflected neither “the foreign policy of the Libyan state” nor “the national Libyan constants”. It is “considered a violation of Libyan laws that criminalize normalization with the Zionist entity.” The Council called on the Prime Minister to “apply the law if the meeting took place”.

On Sunday evening, protests broke out in Tripoli and several suburbs of the capital, the participants of which refused to normalize relations with Israel. It later spread to other cities, where protesters blocked roads, burned tires and waved the Palestinian flag.