Syria’s SANA news agency reported Assad met on December 12 with new Cardinal Mario Zenari, the papal nuncio to Syria, and that the cardinal delivered a letter from the Pope.
The news of the cardinal’s meeting came on the day that the Syrian military announced it gained control of 99 per cent of the former opposition enclave in eastern Aleppo, signalling an impending end to the rebels’ four-year hold over parts of the city.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is urging those fighting in Aleppo to do all they can to protect and spare civilian lives.
The ICRC said in a statement on Tuesday that thousands of people with no part in the violence “have literally nowhere safe to run.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm “over reports of atrocities against a large number of civilians” in the city.
On Monday, the Vatican confirmed the news of Cardinal Zenari’s meeting, saying in a statement that “in naming Archbishop Mario Zenari to the College of Cardinals, the Holy Father sought to show a particular sign of affection for the beloved Syrian people, so sorely tried in recent years.”
“In a letter sent through the new cardinal,” the Vatican statement said, “Pope Francis expressed again his appeal to Assad and to the international community for an end to the to the violence” and for a “peaceful resolution of hostilities, condemning all forms of extremism and terrorism from whatever quarter they may come.”
The Pope also asked Assad “to ensure that international humanitarian law is fully respected with regard to the protection of the civilians and access to humanitarian aid.”
After reciting the Angelus prayer on December 11 with people in St Peter’s Square, the Pope said that he is close in prayer to the people of Aleppo.
“We must not forget that Aleppo is a city and that there are people there: families, children, elderly, sick,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we have become used to the war and destruction, but we must not forget that Syria is a country full of history, culture and faith. We cannot allow this to be negated by war, which is a pile of abuse and falsity.”