Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sent Pope Francis a private message, the Vatican said today (December 28, 2013), without disclosing its contents, the Newsmax World website reports.
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 to end 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 January 22 under United Nations auspices in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Vatican -- which has permanent observer status at the United Nations -- also has representatives to U.N. organizations in Geneva. Syria's civil war -- between forces loyal to Assad and mostly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting to overthrow him -- has killed more than 130,000 people since March 2011.