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Pope appeals to Syria's Assad to respect humanitarian law, let aid in

Pope Francis waves as he leads the Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican December 8, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis appealed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a personal letter to ensure that international humanitarian law is respected so that civilians are protected and aid can get to them, the Vatican said on Monday.

In the letter, given to Assad by the Vatican ambassador in Damascus, the pope appealed to Assad and the international community for an end to violence and condemned “all forms of extremism and terrorism from whatever quarter they may come”.

The letter from the pope, who has made numerous public appeals over the fate of Aleppo, was delivered as a Syrian general said the country’s army and its allies were in the final stages of recapturing the city from rebels.

The statement said the pope wrote of his affection for the “sorely tried” people of Syria and appealed to Assad “to ensure that international humanitarian law is fully respected with regard to the protection of the civilians and access to humanitarian aid”.

It is not common for the Vatican to release details about private letters the pope sends to world leaders.

The statement was issued after the Syrian state news agency Sana reported that in the letter the pope had “expressed his heartfelt sympathy for Syria”, which some on-line news sites in the Middle East interpreted as a show of support for Assad.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Richard Lough