BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) – Greece’s foreign minister cut short the first part of his visit to Libya Thursday, refusing to disembark from his plane after landing in the capital Tripoli, Greek authorities said. Instead, he flew to the city of Benghazi, in the east of the country.
The Greek foreign ministry described the fracas – essentially a snub by Libya’s western, Tripoli-based administration – as a result of a breach of protocol and agreed terms for the visit.
Tensions are rising in the Mediterranean following a controversial maritime and gas preemption between Turkey and the Tripoli administration. Libya, which has been in turmoil since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moammar Gadhafi, has two competing administrations in the east and west of the country.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was on a two-part trip that would include a meeting with the president of Libya’s western government, based in Tripoli, Mohamed Younis Menfi. That was to be followed by a meeting in Benghazi with the administration based in the east.
A brief statement from the Greek ministry indicated that Dendias did not want to meet his counterpart in Tripoli, Najla Mangoush, but she came to the airport to greet him.
Dendias later told reporters that Mangoush “tried to force me, by her presence at the airport, to meet her.”
Mohamed Hamuda, a spokesman for the Tripoli-based government, said Mangoush’s presence at the airport was only part of diplomatic conventions.
Greece and Egypt rejected the preliminary Tripoli-Ankara maritime and gas deal signed last month, accusing Turkey of using the agreement to try to expand its influence in the Mediterranean. The deal includes joint exploration of hydrocarbon reserves in waters offshore Libya.
During a visit to Cairo last month, Dendias said the agreement violates Greece’s maritime borders. His Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, said the western Libyan government led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah had no authority to make such deals, since its mandate expired after Libya’s failed national elections. held in December last year.
The eastern Libyan parliament then appointed a rival prime minister, Fathy Bashagha.
Meanwhile, Cairo and Athens have strengthened ties in recent years, including signing new maritime border agreements with Cyprus.
Relations between Athens and Ankara have deteriorated sharply as a result, with offshore oil and gas exploration rights central to the dispute. Turkey remains a significant supporter of Dbeibah.
In 2019, Turkey signed another controversial maritime border agreement with Tripoli, giving it access to a disputed economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean. The agreement ignored many Greek islands, including Crete, which lie between Turkey and Libya. This changed Turkey’s previous tensions with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt over oil and gas drilling rights.