Syrian Christians pray during Palm Sunday celebrations at the Syriac Orthodox Church in Qamishli. Agence France-Presse
Pope Francis on Sunday urged world leaders to try again to bring peace to Libya and in Syria where millions of refugees and people displaced by conflict should be helped to return home.
In his traditional Easter Sunday address to the faithful at the Vatican, where some 70,000 were gathered in Saint Peter’s square, the pope also expressed his “sadness” at news of the deadly bomb attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad called for progress on a stalled buffer zone deal around extremist-dominated Idlib region ahead of fresh talks aimed at ending his country’s eight-year war.
Assad met envoy Alexander Lavrentiev from key ally Russia in Damascus to discuss the negotiations due April 25-26 in Kazakhstan.
Iran and Russia are the major supporters of the Syrian regime, and along with rebel backer Turkey have sponsored repeated rounds of talks in the Central Asian nation.
Moscow and Ankara in September inked a buffer zone deal to prevent a massive regime offensive on the Idlib region, near the Turkish border.
But the deal has unwound as former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham took full control of the region in January, and the area has come under increasing bombardment.
Assad insisted at the meeting Friday that “obstacles” blocking the full implementation of the deal be removed, the presidency wrote on Facebook.
He said the main aim of the accord was to “eliminate terrorist groups”, as fighters have failed to pull out of the specified areas.
The UN has expressed concern over escalating violence in Idlib, warning that the flare-up is threatening aid deliveries to some 2.7 million people in need.
Francis noted how in Libya violence has flared up again as strongman Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army attacked Tripoli, seat of the UN-backed government.
“May conflict and bloodshed cease in Libya, where defenceless people are once more dying in recent weeks,” Francis said.
“I urge the parties involved to choose dialogue over force and to avoid reopening wounds left by a decade of conflicts and political instability.”