Pope asks al-Assad to resume negotiations to end years of conflict

Airstrikes hit the rebel-controlled town of Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province, Syria.Reuters

Pope Francis has written to Bashar al-Assad urging him to take steps to end the humanitarian crisis in Idlib and resume negotiations towards ending years of devastating civil war. 

The letter, delivered to the Syrian president by the Pope's envoy, Cardinal Peter Turkson, also asks for the protection of civilian life, the humane treatment of political prisoners, and concrete initiatives to enable the safe return of displaced people.

Cardinal Turkson told Vatican News that the Pope was concerned about the "tragic" plight of people forced to flee from camps as a result of the recent military offensive in Idlib, while health facilities and other vital services have also been suspended as a result of the bombing.

He expressed the Pope's "apprehension and great sorrow" over the "tragic" situation for civilians, particularly children. 

"Unfortunately, the war grinds on – it has not ended: the bombings continue, various health facilities have been destroyed in that area, while many others have had to suspend their activities, either completely or partially," he said. 

"Pope Francis renews his appeal for the protection of civilian life and the preservation of the main infrastructures, such as schools, hospitals, and health facilities. What is happening is intolerable and inhuman.

"The Holy Father asks the President to do everything possible to put an end to this humanitarian catastrophe, in order to protect the defenseless population, especially those who are most vulnerable, in respect for international humanitarian law." 

The cardinal said that the Pope's objective in writing the letter was to promote the need for "urgent" reconciliation and an end to partisan interests. 

"And this must be done using the instruments of diplomacy, dialogue, and negotiation, along with the assistance of the international community," he continued.

"We have had to learn once again that war generates war and violence incites violence – as the Pope has said many times, and as he repeats also in this letter.

"Unfortunately, we are concerned about the stalemate in the negotiation process – especially that seen in Geneva – for a political solution to the crisis.

"That is why, in the letter sent to President Assad, the Holy Father encourages him to show good will and to work towards finding viable solutions, putting an end to a conflict which has lasted far too long and which has led to the loss of numerous innocent lives."