Netanyahu woos West African leaders at Liberia summit

Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu told ECOWAS head Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: 'Israel is coming back to Africa' (AFP Photo/Zoom DOSSO) (AFP)

Monrovia (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday joined West African leaders at a summit in Liberia, where they hailed peacekeeping efforts in the region but warned about threats to stability.

Netanyahu, who had visited east Africa in July 2016, vowed that they had "no better partner" than his country after he was received by Liberian President and outgoing head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

"Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming back to Israel. I believe in Africa. I believe in its potential, present and future. It is a continent on the rise," said the Israeli leader.

"Africans are seizing the future. Israel wants to seize this future with you. You truly have no better partner for this mission than Israel," he added.

Netanyahu and Senegalese President Macky Sall later announced the normalisation of diplomatic relations between their two countries, following a spat over a UN resolution demanding Israel halt expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank.

After the motion in December, pushed by Senegal and New Zealand, Israel recalled its ambassadors to both nations and cancelled an aid programme in Senegal.

"The two leaders announced an end to the crisis between their countries," a statement from the Israeli prime minister's office said.

ECOWAS also announced it had in principle approved Morocco's request to join the group, despite Moroccan King Mohamed VI refusing to attend the summit due to the presence of Netanyahu, according to Rabat's foreign ministry.

Sirleaf hailed the contribution of ECOWAS forces in restoring peace in her country, wracked by a bloody civil war from 1989-2003.

"This marks a turning point in the post-conflict recovery in the reconstruction of our country," she said. "Many ECOWAS citizens made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives for the uninterrupted peace we continue to enjoy.

But she warned: "Today, terrorist attacks are endangering the stability in our regions."

On Saturday a Gambian protester died of gunshot wounds after being shot as supporters of former Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh clashed with ECOWAS forces, deployed in the country since January.