Syria's Assad sends message to pope

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (above) on Saturday, Dec 28, 2013, sent a private message to Pope Francis, the Vatican said, after the pontiff made numerous appeals for peace in the war-torn country. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (above) on Saturday, Dec 28, 2013, sent a private message to Pope Francis, the Vatican said, after the pontiff made numerous appeals for peace in the war-torn country. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday, Dec 28, 2013, sent a private message to Pope Francis, the Vatican said, after the pontiff made numerous appeals for peace in the war-torn country.

The contents of the message were not made public. It was passed on through a Syrian government delegation that held talks at the Vatican with the pontiff's Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and foreign affairs official Dominique Mamberti.

"The delegation brought a message from President Assad for the Holy Father and explained the position of the Syrian government," a statement said.

Questioned by AFP about the content of the message, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said he would not be giving further details.

There were no immediate details, either, in Syria's state media.

The pope, who was elected in March, used his first "Urbi et Orbi" speech on Christmas Day to plead for humanitarian aid access in Syria and an end to the violence.

"Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fuelling hatred and vengeance," the 77-year-old pope said on Wednesday.

"Let us continue to ask the Lord to spare the beloved Syrian people further suffering, and to enable the parties in conflict to put an end to all violence and guarantee access to humanitarian aid."

The conflict is estimated to have killed more than 126,000 people and displaced millions since it first started out as peaceful anti-regime protests in 2011 and the violence there has unsettled the Middle East as a whole.

Earlier this month, the pontiff called for prayers for 12 nuns seized from their convent in Syria.

In September he organised a global day of prayer for peace in Syria, speaking out against an armed international intervention in the country.