In a major shake up of the Vatican's administration on Saturday, Pope Francis replaced Catholicism's top theologian, a conservative German cardinal who has been at odds with the pontiff's vision of a more inclusive Church.
A brief Vatican statement said Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller's five-year mandate as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a key department charged with defending Catholic doctrine, would not be renewed.
Mueller, 69, who was appointed by former Pope Benedict in 2012, will be succeeded by the department's number two, Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer.
Ladaria, a 73-year-old Spaniard who, like the Argentine pope is a member of the Jesuit order, is said by those who know him to be a soft-spoken person who shuns the limelight. Mueller, by contrast, often appears in the media.
"They speak the same language and Ladaria is someone who is meek. He does not agitate the pope and does not threaten him," said a priest who works in the Vatican and knows both Mueller and Ladaria, asking not to be named.
Since his election in 2013, Francis has given hope to progressives who want him to forge ahead with his vision for a more welcoming Church that concentrates on mercy rather than the strict enforcement of rigid rules they see as antiquated.
Mueller is one of several cardinals in the Vatican who have publicly sparred with the pope.
In 2015 he was among 13 cardinals who signed a secret letter to the pope complaining that a meeting of bishops discussing family issues was stacked in favour of liberals. The letter was leaked, embarrassing the signatories.
Mueller has criticised parts of a 2016 papal treatise called "Amoris Laetitia" (The Joy of Love), a cornerstone document of Francis' attempt to make the 1.2 billion-member Church more inclusive and less condemning.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon accused the United Nations of “colluding with supporters of terror seeking to harm Israel,” following a two-day panel Thursday-Friday marking “50 years of occupation” in which groups Israel says have links to Palestinian terror organizations participated.
The panel was addressed by Palestinian officials, an Israeli MK, Israeli and Palestinian activists and others.
“It is beyond comprehension that UN funds are supporting organizations which aid terrorists and incite against Israel,” Danon said in a statement about the event, which was organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and held at UN headquarters in New York.
Israel protested the meetings which began Thursday, saying that two of the groups participating, Al Haq and the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, had links to Hamas and the PFLP.
Jody Williams, the keynote speaker at the forum on Friday, urged attendees to make “life hell” for Israel until it withdraws from Palestinian territory.
Commenting on the recent CNN report that US ships and aircraft have been moved into position and are ready to strike Syria's Shayrat airbase if the Syrian government makes "any further moves toward a chemical weapons attack," Lt. Gen. Evgeny Buzhinsky told Sputnik that the US is simply looking for an excuse to strike the airbase.
On Wednesday, CNN reported that Syria's Shayrat airbase "remains under constant overhead surveillance by the US for further signs of whether a chemical strike may be in the works."
It followed the claims of the White House that the US allegedly "observed potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime."
CNN reported that the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, along with two destroyers and two cruisers have been deployed in the eastern Mediterranean Sea for routine patrol positions.
"The destroyers and cruisers could fire Tomahawk missiles without putting pilots in manned aircraft at risk. In addition, dozens of aircraft already in the Middle East for operations against ISIS (Daesh) in Syria and Iraq could be used in a potential strike," the broadcaster said.
On Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova commented on the claims.
"Unfortunately, Washington has voiced new baseless accusations against the Syrian leadership that [Damascus] allegedly is planning a new chemical attack. We know about these statements, which the Washington officials have refused to support with facts. And we don't know what data was used to make such conclusions," Zakharova said. "
Former Russian Defense Ministry senior official Lt. Gen. Evgeny Buzhinsky told Sputnik that the US is looking for an excuse for a new attack.
"The Americans are seeking an excuse to be able to demonstrate yet again their determination and gun power. We shouldn’t rule out something happening. In the current climate, we can expect the unexpected from the US, as well as predictable events," he said.
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