Pope Francis urges Assad to protect Syria's civilians

| Updated: Dec 13, 2016 22:47 IST

London [UK], Dec. 13 (ANI): Pope Francis in an appeal to Bashar al-Assad has urged the Syrian President to respect international humanitarian law and to protect the rights of civilians in the war-torn country. Francis's message was contained in a letter delivered directly to Assad on Monday by Cardinal Mario Zenari, the Vatican's top diplomat in Syria, reports the Guardian. Forces loyal to the Assad regime are moving closer to taking the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo after intense artillery shelling and airstrikes that have killed or displaced thousands. Hundreds of thousands of people in east Aleppo have been living with dwindling food supplies, a lack of fuel, water and electricity and no access to hospitals. The Vatican said the letter contained an appeal to the president and the international community to end the violence and condemned "all forms of extremism and terrorism from whatever quarter they may come". It said Francis was appealing "to the president to ensure that international humanitarian law is fully respected with regard to the protection of the civilians and access to humanitarian aid". On Sunday in a message delivered in St Peter's Square, the Pope also called on followers not to forget the suffering of civilians in Aleppo. The Vatican initially declined to confirm the existence and contents of the letter after it was initially published by a Syrian news website alongside a picture of Assad sitting next to Zenari. It is not common practice for the Vatican to release private correspondence by the Pope. (ANI)