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Libyan forces mobilise against protest call

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Armed forces in the Libyan capital mobilised a massive security presence on Friday, apparently to prevent any further protests over the interim government's meeting with Israel last week.

Dozens of military vehicles, some armed with heavy weapons, lined major roads and traffic intersections while convoys belonging to powerful armed factions patrolled the city, Reuters journalists said.

The security presence came after activists called for new protests against the interim Government of National Unity (GNU) and Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah over its foreign minister meeting her Israeli counterpart.

During protests on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights, more than 16 demonstrators were detained by the security forces in Tripoli though most of them are to be released on Saturday said Omar Tarban, head of the Beltrees activist group.

The arrests, and Friday's heavy security presence, underscore the increasingly precarious position of the GNU amid a concerted push by Libyan factions to replace it with a new administration.

In a noticeable shift last week, the United Nations envoy said a unified government was a prerequisite for elections in Libya, moving from its previous stance that a national vote should go ahead without changing the administration.

Libya has had little peace or stability since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising and it split in 2014 between warring factions that had rival governments and legislative bodies.

Major warfare paused in 2020 but a political process to unify Libya and hold elections has stalled, with the eastern-based parliament and other parts of the political system rejecting the GNU's legitimacy.

Powerful armed factions in Tripoli have continued to back Dbeibah and they stopped a rival government appointed by the parliament from taking office in the capital during a day of fighting last year.

However, clashes last month between those same factions in Tripoli that are aligned with Dbeibah underscored the risk of further warfare without a stable political settlement.

Anger against Dbeibah and the GNU flared late on Sunday when Israel's Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said he had met Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush in Rome and they had discussed future cooperation.

Libya does not recognise Israel and it backs the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

After protests in several cities and expressions of outrage from across Libya's political spectrum Dbeibah dismissed Mangoush. The GNU Youth Minister Fathallah al-Zuni said on Thursday he had declined to take the post.

Dbeibah said in cabinet on Thursday that he rejects any normalisation with Israel and that the facts about Mangoush's meeting with Cohen would be made public and required "a harsh response", but he did not specifically deny knowledge of it.

Analysts say Dbeibah and other Libyan leaders have attempted to build ties with Israel in the hope that the United States, which sees Arab normalisation with Israel as a priority, would support them in Libya's internal political standoff.

(Reporting by Reuters Libya newsroom; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Frances Kerry)