Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

Pope Francis expresses 'deep concern' to Syria's Bashar Al Assad on Idlib violence

In a letter, the pontiff made several requests for Syrian regime to ensure security of displaced people

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad (R) listens to Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson (L) during a visit by a delegation from the Vatican to the Syrian capital Damascus on July 22, 2019. AFP
Syrian President Bashar Al Assad (R) listens to Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson (L) during a visit by a delegation from the Vatican to the Syrian capital Damascus on July 22, 2019. AFP

Pope Francis's envoy delivered a letter to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad on Monday expressing concerns over the humanitarian situation in Idlib.

The province, situated in northwestern Syria, is the last major rebel stronghold against the regime and has been the target of Russian-backed air strikes since April.

Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana gave Mr Al Assad the letter which “expresses the deep concern of His Holiness Pope Francis for the humanitarian situation in Syria," and especially for the civilian population in Idlib, said a statement, issued by new papal spokesman Matteo Bruni,

Italian Cardinal Mario Zenari, the pope’s ambassador in Syria, accompanied Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson who heads the Vatican’s department for promoting integral human development during the meeting that took place in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Since his election in March 2013, Pope Francis has made the Syria war a top political and diplomatic priority.

In his letter, the pontiff made several requests of Mr Al Assad, to ensure security for displaced people, the release of displaced persons who’ve been detained, information for the families of displaced persons as their location and conditions, humanitarian treatment of political prisoners.

Pope Francis also called for a renewal of dialogue and negotiations with the involvement of the international community, according to a statement by the Vatican.

Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State said in an interview released by the Vatican on Monday that the airstrikes in Idlib have made an already bad situation even worse.

“The recent military offensive has added to the extreme conditions of life that people endure in the [displaced person] camps, forcing many to flee,” Cardinal Parolin said.

“The Pope is following the dramatic fate of the civilian population with apprehension and great pain, above all for the children caught up in these bloody bombings.”

The meeting comes as air attacks killed at least 20 people and wounded dozens on Monday in an attack that it thought to be carried out by either Syrian or Russian jets that targeted Maarat Al Numan, a densely populated city in southern Idlib.

Busy market and residential areas have been the target of a campaign waged by the Syrian and Russian governments that has killed hundreds, human rights organisations say.

Russia’s Defence Ministry denied reports that it was responsible for the attack.

Both Moscow and Damascus deny allegations of indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas and say they are targeting Al Qaeda-inspired extremists.

Human Rights Watch said last month that the Russian-Syrian operation had used "internationally prohibited and other indiscriminate weapons in unlawful attacks on civilians".

Updated: July 22, 2019 03:40 PM

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