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Italy's Meloni unexpectedly replaces G7 sherpa with spy chief

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Friday replaced the country's sherpa for the Group of Seven (G7) with the head of the secret service, according to a statement, in an unexpected move just three months ahead of the leaders' summit in Italy.

Luca Ferrari will be appointed ambassador to Israel at a cabinet meeting expected for Monday, interrupting his preparations for the June summit, which is the highlight of Italy's G7 presidency.

Elisabetta Belloni will replace him while retaining her job at the secret service, the government statement said.

The G7 sherpa is in charge of all the preparatory work leading to the annual summit of major Western leaders and for coordinating negotiations of the final statements.

Ferrari was with Meloni during her trip to Kyiv last month, where she chaired her first G7 video conference since Italy took over the rotating presidency at the start of the year.

Belloni is one of Italy's top career diplomats. Prior to becoming head of the secret services in 2021, she served as the foreign ministry's secretary general.

Meloni's office and the foreign ministry did not say why Ferrari had been moved from such a sensitive position with the G7 presidency in full flow.

It is not the first time Meloni has abruptly replaced a top diplomat since taking office in late 2022. Her former chief adviser, Francesco Talo, resigned in November after the prime minister fell victim to Russian pranksters in a joke call.

The G7 leaders' summit will take place on June 13-15 in Borgo Egnazia, a resort in the southeastern Puglia region.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante; editing by Crispian Balmer and Bill Berkrot)