.- Pope Benedict XVI used his Sunday Angelus address to call for peace in Syria and to urge the government there to respect “the legitimate aspirations” of its citizens.
“I renew an urgent appeal to the Syrian Authority and population, for peaceful coexistence to be restored as soon as possible and for an adequate response to the legitimate aspirations of the citizens, respecting their dignity and for the benefit of regional stability,” the Pope told pilgrims gathered at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome August 7.
The Pope’s comments come on the day that reports suggest at least 38 people were killed in a dawn raid by the Syrian army upon the eastern city of Deir al-Zour.
Dozens of tanks and armored vehicles bombarded the city which has been the scene of frequent protests in recent months. In total, anti-government activists claim that over 1650 civilians have now been killed since their uprising began in mid-March.
Defending this morning’s attacks, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria said “to deal with outlaws who cut off roads, seal towns and terrorise residents is a duty of the state, which must defend security and protect the lives of civilians,” the Syrian state news agency Sana reports him saying to the Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour. President Assad also added that “Syria is on the path to reform.”
The Pope said he was “following with great concern the dramatic and growing violence in Syria, which has caused numerous deaths and severe suffering,” and he invited “the Catholic faithful to pray that efforts for reconciliation prevail over division and hatred.”
Pope Benedict’s plea for peace joins that of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who phoned President Assad yesterday to urge him to stop using military force against civilians. Ban “expressed his strong concern and that of the international community at the mounting violence and death toll in Syria over the past days,” a UN spokesman explained.
The Pope also made an appeal for peace in Libya where, he said, “the force of arms has not resolved the situation.”
“I urge International organizations and those who have political and military responsibilities to revive with conviction and determination the search for a peace plan for the country, through negotiation and dialogue.”
Yesterday, Libyan rebels claimed to have launched a new offensive to capture several key towns in the west of the country in a bid to capture the capital city of Tripoli and topple the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
“Our destination is Tripoli but we cannot jump directly to Tripoli. We go one by one,” rebel commander Colonel Jumma Ibrahim told the AP news agency.
The latest offensive is being seen as an attempt to break the military stalemate between both sides with Colonel Gaddafi still controlling must of the west of the country.