VATICAN CITY - Syrian President Bashar Assad has sent Pope Francis a private message, the Vatican said on Saturday, without disclosing its contents.
It was the first known time Assad has sent a direct message to the pontiff since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011. Pope Francis has made numerous appeals for an end to the conflict, the latest on Christmas Day.
Vatican sources said the message likely included the Syrian government's position ahead of peace talks due to start on Jan. 22 under UN auspices in Geneva.
The Vatican, which has permanent observer status at the United Nations, also has a representative to UN organizations in Geneva.
The Vatican said a delegation headed by Joseph Sweid, a Syrian minister of state, held talks in the Vatican with the pope's secretary of state, Archbishop Pietro Parolin and his foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.
"The delegation brought a message from President Assad for the Holy Father and illustrated the position of the Syrian government," a statement said.
Syria's civil war between forces loyal to Assad and mostly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting to topple him has killed more than 100,000 people since March 2011.
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