Libya’s foreign minister sacked, flees country after meeting with Israel’s chief diplomat

Libya’s foreign minister sacked, flees country after meeting with Israel’s chief diplomat
People burn a shirt showing Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush in Tripoli, Libya, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Yousef Murad)
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Updated 29 August 2023
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Libya’s foreign minister sacked, flees country after meeting with Israel’s chief diplomat

Libya’s foreign minister sacked, flees country after meeting with Israel’s chief diplomat
  • Libya does not recognize Israel and supports the establishment of a Palestinian state
  • Mangoush fled to Turkiye following the Israeli announcement of the meeting

CAIRO: Libya’s foreign minister on Monday was sacked and fled the country, a day after Israel revealed that its chief diplomat met with her last week — news that prompted scattered street protests in the chaos-stricken North African nation.
Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who heads one of Libya’s rival governments, said he referred her for an investigation over the meeting, which was the first ever between top diplomats of Libya and Israel. Dbeibah did not clarify on what grounds Mangoush would be investigated. However, it is illegal to normalize ties with Israel under a 1957 law in Libya, which has long been hostile toward Israel.
Mangoush fled to Turkiye following the Israeli announcement of the meeting, according to a Libyan Foreign Ministry official.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Mangoush met in Rome last week. It was a small breakthrough for Israel’s government, whose hard-line policies toward the Palestinians have led to a cooling of its burgeoning ties with the Arab world.
Cohen said they discussed the importance of preserving the heritage of Libya’s former Jewish community, including renovating synagogues and cemeteries. The talks also touched on possible Israeli assistance for humanitarian issues, agriculture and water management, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
The Libyan Foreign Ministry tried to play down the meeting, calling it “unprepared and an unofficial meeting during a meeting with Italy’s foreign minister.” It said in a statement that Mangoush’s encounter with Cohen didn’t include “any talks, agreements or consultations.”
Dbeibah’s decision to sack Mangoush suggested that he was not aware of the meeting. However, two senior Libyan government officials told The Associated Press the prime minister knew about the talks between his foreign minister and the Israeli chief diplomat.
One of the officials said Dbeibah gave the green light for the meeting last month when he was on a visit to Rome. The prime minister’s office arranged the encounter in coordination with Mangoush, he said.
The second official said the meeting lasted for about two hours and Mangoush briefed the prime minister directly after her return to the capital, Tripoli. The official said the meeting crowned US-brokered efforts to have Libya join a series of Arab countries establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.
The official said normalization of relations between Libya and Israel was first discussed in a meeting between Dbeibah, and CIA Director William Burns, who visited the Libyan capital in January.
The Libyan premier gave initial approval for joining the US-brokered Abraham Accords, but he was concerned about public backlash in a country known for its past support for the Palestinian cause, the official said.
The official, meanwhile, said Mangoush, who was surprised by the Israeli announcement, quickly fled the Libyan capital on a private flight to Istanbul.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity for their safety.
Jalel Harchaoui, an associate fellow specializing in Libya at the London-based Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, said Dbeibah has sought to please foreign governments as he has come under growing pressure from the UN and other countries over the political stalemate in his nation.
Harchaoui said the Libyan prime minister’s decision to sack his foreign minister “undoubtedly” aimed at calming public anger.
In New York, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric wouldn’t comment on the matter, calling it an internal issue, but said: “We are concerned about the safety of the foreign minister. There are reports that she’s been threatened and she had to flee the country. Her safety is paramount.”
A day after proudly announcing what it called a “historic” meeting, Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Monday put out a statement saying that neither Cohen nor the ministry was responsible for “leaking” the news.
An Israeli official said the ministry was forced to go public Sunday after an Israeli news site planned to publish a report on the meeting. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the behind-the-scenes diplomacy, said that Israel informed the Libyans about the leak and said that both countries had previously agreed they would announce the meeting at an unspecified time.
Libya was plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The oil-rich country has been split between the Western-backed government in Tripoli and a rival administration in the country’s east. Each side has been backed by armed groups and foreign governments. Qaddafi was hostile to Israel and a staunch supporter of the Palestinians, including radical militant groups.
Sunday’s announcement of the meeting prompted scattered protests in Tripoli and other towns in western Libya. Protesters stormed the foreign ministry headquarters to condemn the meeting, while others attacked and burned a residence for the prime minister in Tripoli, according to local reports.
In the town of Zawiya protesters burned the Israeli flag, while others held the Palestinian flag. There were also protests in the city of Misrata, a stronghold for Dbeibah, according to footage circulated on social media and verified by The Associated Press.
Khalid Al-Mishri, a politician who was the chair of the State Council, a Tripoli-based legislative body, condemned the meeting and called for the dismissal of Dbeibah’s government, which is close to the US and the West.
“This government has crossed all prohibited lines and must be brought down,” he wrote on the Twitter.
The House of Representatives of Libya’s rival government in the east also slammed the meeting as a “legal and moral crime.” It convened an emergency session Monday in the eastern city of Benghazi, and called for the country’s public prosecutor to probe Dbeibah’s government communications with Isreal.
In Israel, Yair Lapid, a former foreign minister and prime minister, criticized Cohen for going public with the sensitive meeting.
“Countries of the world this morning are looking at the irresponsible leak of the meeting of the Israeli and Libyan foreign minister and asking themselves: is it possible to manage foreign relations with this country? Is it possible to trust this country?” Lapid said in a statement.


Egypt’s foreign minister makes first trip to Iran to attend president’s funeral

Egypt’s foreign minister makes first trip to Iran to attend president’s funeral
Updated 4 sec ago
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Egypt’s foreign minister makes first trip to Iran to attend president’s funeral

Egypt’s foreign minister makes first trip to Iran to attend president’s funeral
  • Relations between Egypt and Iran have often been fraught in recent decades although the two countries have maintained diplomatic contacts
DUBAI: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry headed on Wednesday to Tehran to participate in the funeral of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Shoukry’s visit is the first visit by the Egyptian foreign minister to Iran,” Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said.
Relations between Egypt and Iran have often been fraught in recent decades although the two countries have maintained diplomatic contacts.
Last September, foreign ministers of both countries met during the United Nations leaders gathering in New York and Raisi, who also attended the UN General Assembly, said at the time that the meeting could pave the way for a restoration of ties.
Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, who also died in the crash, had met his Egyptian counterpart earlier this month in Gambia on the sidelines of a summit for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The two ministers had discussed efforts to promote bilateral relations and the latest developments in the region, especially the ongoing situation in Gaza.

Iran says used own drones to locate Raisi’s helicopter

Iran says used own drones to locate Raisi’s helicopter
Updated 53 min 38 sec ago
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Iran says used own drones to locate Raisi’s helicopter

Iran says used own drones to locate Raisi’s helicopter
  • A huge search and rescue operation for Raisi’s helicopter involved help from the European Union, Russia and Turkiye
  • Drone dispatched by Turkiye had failed to locate the crash site, Iran says

TEHRAN: The Iranian military said Wednesday that it had used domestically produced drones to locate the helicopter of president Ebrahim Raisi after it crashed in the northwestern mountains.
Raisi’s helicopter came down on a fog-shrouded mountainside on Sunday as it returned to the city of Tabriz from a ceremony on the border with Azerbaijan.
A huge search and rescue operation was launched, involving help from the European Union, Russia and Turkiye before the crash site was located early on Monday.
The Iranian military said that a drone dispatched by Turkiye had failed to locate the crash site “despite having night-vison equipment“
“This drone failed to accurately announce the location of the helicopter crash and finally returned to Turkiye,” the military said in a statement carried by the official IRNA news agency
“Finally, in the early hours of Monday morning, the exact spot of the helicopter crash was discovered by the ground rescue forces and Iranian drones of the armed forces.”
Armed forces chief Mohammad Bagheri has ordered an investigation into the cause of the crash, which also killed seven members of Raisi’s entourage, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.


Huge crowds in Iran capital for Raisi’s funeral

Huge crowds in Iran capital for Raisi’s funeral
Updated 22 May 2024
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Huge crowds in Iran capital for Raisi’s funeral

Huge crowds in Iran capital for Raisi’s funeral
  • Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei leads prayers for those who died in the helicopter crash

TEHRAN: Tens of thousands of Iranians flocked to the streets of Tehran Wednesday to join the funeral processions of president Ebrahim Raisi and his entourage, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

In the center of the city, people holding portraits of Raisi gathered in and around the University of Tehran, where Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is due to lead prayers for Raisi and his companions, including foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

Raisi’s helicopter crashed Sunday on a fog-shrouded mountainside in northern Iran on the way to the city of Tabriz after the group attended the inauguration of a dam project on the border with Azerbaijan.

A huge search and rescue operation was launched, involving help from Turkiye, Russia and the European Union. State television announced Raisi’s death early on Monday.

Raisi, who was widely expected to succeed Khamenei as supreme leader, was 63.

In the capital, huge banners have gone up hailing the late president as “the martyr of service,” while others bade “farewell to the servant of the disadvantaged.”

Tehran residents received phone messages urging them to “attend the funeral of the martyr of service.”

The processions, which will be attended by foreign dignitaries, are planned to set off from the university and head to the vast Enghelab Square in the city center, according to state media.

Funeral rites for the late president and his entourage began on Tuesday with tens of thousands of black-clad mourners in attendance in the city of Tabriz and the Shiite clerical center of Qom.

From Tehran, the bodies will be moved to South Khorasan province before being transferred to Raisi’s home city of Mashhad in the northeast, where he will be buried on Thursday evening after funeral rites at the Imam Reza shrine.

Khamenei, who wields ultimate authority in Iran, has declared five days of national mourning and assigned vice president Mohammad Mokhber, 68, as caretaker president until the June 28 election for Raisi’s successor.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri, who was Amir-Abdollahian’s deputy, has been named acting foreign minister.

The country’s armed forces chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri has ordered an investigation into the cause of the helicopter crash.

Raisi was elected president in 2021, succeeding the moderate Hassan Rouhani at a time when the economy was battered by US sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear activities.

The ultra-conservative’s time in office saw mass protests, a deepening economic crisis and unprecedented armed exchanges with arch-enemy Israel.

After his death, global allies Russia and China and regional powers voiced their condolences, as did NATO, while the UN Security Council observed a minute of silence.

Messages of condolence also flooded in from Iran’s allies around the region, including Syria, Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, both of which are backed by Tehran.


UN food agency warns that the new US sea route for Gaza aid may fail unless conditions improve

UN food agency warns that the new US sea route for Gaza aid may fail unless conditions improve
Updated 22 May 2024
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UN food agency warns that the new US sea route for Gaza aid may fail unless conditions improve

UN food agency warns that the new US sea route for Gaza aid may fail unless conditions improve
  • The UN food agency is now reevaluating logistics and security measures and looking for alternate routes within Gaza

WASHINGTON: The UN World Food Program said Tuesday the new US $320 million pier project for delivering aid to Gaza may fail unless Israel starts ensuring the conditions the humanitarian groups need to operate safely. The operation was halted for at least two days after crowds looted aid trucks coming from the port and one Palestinian man was killed.
Deliveries were stopped Sunday and Monday after the majority of the trucks in an aid convoy Saturday were stripped of all their goods on the way to a warehouse in central Gaza, the WFP said. The first aid transported by sea had entered the besieged enclave on Friday.
The Pentagon said movement of aid from the secured area at the port resumed Tuesday, but the UN said it was not aware of any deliveries on Tuesday.
The UN food agency is now reevaluating logistics and security measures and looking for alternate routes within Gaza, said spokesperson Abeer Etefa. The WFP is working with the US Agency for International Development to coordinate the deliveries.
Only five of the 16 aid trucks that left the secured area on Saturday arrived at the intended warehouse with their cargo intact, another WFP spokesperson, Steve Taravela, told The Associated Press. He said the other 11 trucks were waylaid by what became a crowd of people and arrived without their cargo.
“Without sufficient supplies entering Gaza, these issues will continue to surface. Community acceptance and trust that this is not a one-off event are essential for this operation’s success,” Taravela said in an email. “We have raised this issue with the relevant parties and reiterated our request for alternative roads to facilitate aid delivery. Unless we receive the necessary clearance and coordination to use additional routes, this operation may not be successful.”
The WFP also said Tuesday it has suspended food distribution in the southern Gaza city of Rafah due to a lack of supplies and insecurity.
President Joe Biden ordered the US military’s construction of the floating pier for deliveries of food and other vital supplies. Israeli restrictions on shipments through land borders and overall fighting have put all 2.3 million residents of Gaza in a severe food crisis since the Israel-Hamas war began in October, and US and UN officials say famine has taken hold in the north of Gaza.
Authorities have offered limited details of what transpired with Saturday’s aid convoy. However, Associated Press video shows Israeli armored vehicles on a beach road, then aid trucks moving down the road. Civilians watching from the roadside gradually start to clamber on top of the aid trucks, throwing aid down to people below. Numbers of people then appear to overrun the aid trucks and their goods.
At one point, people are shown carting a motionless man with a chest wound through the crowd. A local morgue later confirmed to the AP the man had been killed by a rifle shot. At another point, shots crackled, and some of the men in the crowd are shown apparently ducking behind aid boxes for cover.
It was not clear who fired the shots. The Israeli military is responsible for security for the aid when it reaches the shore. Once it leaves the secure area at the port, aid groups follow their own security protocols.
Asked about the shooting, the Israeli army told the AP, using the acronym for the Israel Defense Forces: “The IDF is currently focused on eliminating the threat from the terrorist organization Hamas.”
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Tuesday that the aid convoys do not travel with armed security. He said the best security comes from engagement with various community groups and humanitarian partners so people understand that there will be a constant flow of aid. “That is not possible in an active combat zone,” Dujarric said.
The Pentagon press secretary, Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, said that as of Tuesday 569 metric tons of aid has been delivered to the secured area at the Gaza port. Some of it remains there, however, because distribution agencies are working to find alternative routes to warehouses in Gaza.
Asked if any aid from the pier had yet reached Gaza residents in need, Ryder said, “I do not believe so.” He said aid had resumed moving Tuesday from the secured area into Gaza, after what had been a two-day halt following Saturday’s disruption. He gave no immediate details.
Etefa, the WFP spokesperson in Cairo, said she knew of no deliveries from the shore on Tuesday, however.
Biden announced the US mission to open a new sea route for humanitarian goods during his State of the Union address in March, as pressure built on the administration over civilian deaths in Gaza.
The war began in October after a Hamas-led attack killed about 1,200 people in Israel. Israeli airstrikes and fighting have killed more than 35,000 Palestinians since then, Gaza health officials say.
Many international humanitarian organizations were critical of the US project, saying that while any aid was welcome, surging food through the land crossings was the only way to curb the growing starvation. Jeremy Konyndyk, a former USAID official now leading the Refugees International humanitarian organization, called the pier operation “humanitarian theater” and said it was being done for political effect.
The UN says some 1.1 million people in Gaza — nearly half the population — face catastrophic levels of hunger and that the territory is on the brink of famine. The crisis in humanitarian supplies has spiraled in the two weeks since Israel began an incursion into Rafah on May 6, vowing to root out Hamas fighters. Troops seized the Rafah crossing into Egypt, which has been closed since.
Since May 10, only about three dozen trucks have made it into Gaza via the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel because fighting makes it difficult for aid workers to reach it, the UN says.
Taravela said little aid or fuel — needed to run aid delivery trucks — is currently reaching any part of Gaza, and stocks of both are almost exhausted.
“The bottom line is that humanitarian operations in Gaza are near collapse,” he wrote.


The US-made helicopter in Iran president’s crash

The US-made helicopter in Iran president’s crash
Updated 22 May 2024
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The US-made helicopter in Iran president’s crash

The US-made helicopter in Iran president’s crash
  • It still has around 40 F-14 Tomcat fighter jets, which became famous in the Tom Cruise film “Top Gun” in the 1980s and have been used by the US Air Force itself for two decades

PARIS: The helicopter in the crash that killed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was a US-made Bell 212, a model introduced in 1968 during the Vietnam War and last produced in 1998.
Here is what we know about the Bell 212:

Brought into service in 1971, the civilian helicopter had a military version known as Twin Huey, which was used by US troops during the Vietnam conflict.
One of its variants, the Huey UH-1 Iroquois, gained notoriety in an iconic scene in the film “Apocalypse Now” during which US troops play Richard Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries on loudspeakers during a raid on a Vietnamese village.
The Bell 212 can carry 13 passengers plus two pilots and fly at more than 250 kilometers (156 miles) per hour, with a range of more than 400 kilometers.
It features a two-blade propeller and is equipped with two Pratt and Whitney engines of 900 horsepower each.
The helicopter was first manufactured in Fort Worth, Texas, before production moved to Mirabel, outside Montreal, from 1988 until 1998, the last year it wast built. It was also made under license in Italy by Agusta.
As of last year, 704 Bell 212 or Bell 412 — its four-blade version — were still in service among armed forces, including in Angola, Argentina, Morocco, Turkiye and Zambia, according to the most recent annual report of industry publication FlightGlobal.

As of 2023, Iran operated 10 Bell 212 helicopters — two used by the air force and the remainder by the navy, according to FlightGlobal.
Tehran was an important client for the American civilian and military aircraft industry under the shah of Iran, a close US ally, until his ouster by the Islamic revolution in 1979.
Iran has sought to keep its aging fleet in the air despite US sanctions that have it made very difficult for Tehran to obtain spare parts.
It still has around 40 F-14 Tomcat fighter jets, which became famous in the Tom Cruise film “Top Gun” in the 1980s and have been used by the US Air Force itself for two decades.
Iran also has a number of F5 fighters, purchased from the United States four decades ago and which first came into service 60 years ago.

The Bell company, which was founded in 1935 and became a subsidiary of industrial group Textron in 1960, still produces helicopters.
The firm prides itself on having been the first to certify a helicopter intended for civilian use, in 1946.
A year later it was an experimental Bell X-1 aircraft that Chuck Yeager piloted as he became the first man to surpass the speed of sound in 1947.