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December 28, 2013 AT 8:56 AM
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 January 22 under U.N.