Damascus - On Monday 22 July Pope Francis sent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a letter in which he "reaffirms support for the restoration of stability in Syria".
This is how Syrian government agency SANA launched the news of the papal letter physically brought to the Syrian President by Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for the promotion of Human Integral Development, accompanied by Father Nicola Riccardi ofm, undersecretary of the same Vatican Dicastery, and by Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio in Damascus.
The Syrian government media do not report the contents of the letter, merely reporting that support for the return of stability is reaffirmed and the end of the suffering of the Syrian people is hoped for. The Syrian side reports instead focus on the words that Assad addressed to the Vatican representatives who handed him the Pope's letter. According to reports from SANA, during the conversation Assad stressed that the attacks against the civilians were perpetrated by those who the Syrian President defined as "terrorists" present in Idlib Province, and reiterated accusations against regional and western foreign forces that in his opinion continue to offer support to armed groups in Syria. The only way to help Syrian people - remarked Assad - is to put pressure on "the states that support the terrorists, trying to prolong the war".
The official Syrian media also published photos of the meeting between Assad and Vatican representatives, but their oriented and partial reports did not mention the interview of the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin disseminated by VaticanNews and by Osservatore Romano, in which the concrete requests that the Pope wanted to include in his letter to the Syrian President were also described. The Bishop of Rome - Cardinal Parolin explained in his interview - asked Assad to "do everything possible" to stop the humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib province, also providing concrete examples, such as the need to ensure "the conditions for a safe return of exiles and internally displaced persons" and to ensure "conditions of humanity" to political prisoners often detained in unofficial places of detention.
Already in December 2016, while the clash between the government army and anti-Assad militias was underway for the control of Aleppo, Pope Francis had sent a letter to the Syrian President through apostolic Nuncio Zenari to denounce all forms of extremism and terrorism, and to ask that in that situation of conflict the need to "fully respect international humanitarian law regarding the protection of civilians and access to humanitarian aid" was fundamental.