Pope Francis Appeals to Bashar Assad to Protect Syrian Civilians

Pope Francis speaks during a meeting with the dioceses of Rome, at the Vatican Basilica of St. John Lateran, in Rome, Thursday, May 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Alessandra Tarantino/AP Photo

ROME — Pope Francis has written a personal letter to Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad expressing his “deep concern over the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and especially for the tragic situation of the civilian population in Idlib,” according to papal spokesman Matteo Bruni.

On Tuesday, a three-man Vatican delegation delivered the letter to Assad, demonstrating “how much Pope Francis has at heart the fate of Syria’s population,” said Cardinal Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio in Syria and a member of the delegation.

Although the text of the letter has not yet been made public, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said that the pope “continues to pray that Syria may regain a climate of fraternity after these long years of war, and that reconciliation may prevail over division and hatred.”

In this reconciliation process, the Holy Father makes reference in his letter to “the conditions needed for the safe return of exiles and internally displaced persons, and for all those who wish to return to the country after having been forced to leave,” Cardinal Parolin said in an interview published Monday by Vatican News.

“He also mentions the release of prisoners and the access of families to information about their loved ones,” he said.

Cardinal Parolin said that in his letter, the pope “voices concerns over the conditions of political prisoners to whom humanitarian conditions cannot be denied.”

The letter reiterates “the need to seek an appropriate political solution to end the conflict, overcoming partisan interests. This must be done using the instruments of diplomacy, dialogue, and negotiation, along with the assistance of the international community,” Parolin said.

The cardinal also voiced his own opinion that, with its “high number of deaths, wounded and displaced people, this war is the most serious humanitarian catastrophe caused by man since the Second World War.”

“There are more than six million internally displaced persons, 5 million in neighboring countries,” he said.

“More than 300,000 people have been displaced in Idlib in the past three months,” he said, in reference to a district in northwest Syria that has served as a rebel stronghold since last April.

“Syria is in fact a piece of this deeply worrying World war. Let it suffice to remember the Second World War, which lasted from 1939 to 1945,” he said. “Syrian civil war has entered its ninth year, with tremendous suffering for the whole population, of all faiths and ethnicities.”

The cardinal said that the pope’s letter has a “humanitarian” value, conveying his closeness to the civilian population in their suffering, especially in the province of Idlib, which is “threatened by a humanitarian disaster of enormous proportions should the fighting continue.”

Parolin said that some three million civilians are caught in the crossfire and that “priority must be given to relieving their suffering and demanding compliance with international humanitarian law, which in the first place provides for the protection of the civilian population and of infrastructures such as schools, hospitals and markets.”

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