VATICAN CITY — Calling the war in Syria "inhumane," Pope Francis called for an end to the fighting, immediate access to humanitarian aid and the evacuation of the injured and infirm.
"My thoughts often turn to that beloved and martyred Syria where the war has intensified, especially in eastern Ghouta," he said Feb. 25 after praying the Angelus with people gathered in St. Peter Square.
"This month of February has been one of the most violent in seven years of conflict: hundreds, thousands of civilian victims — children, woman, the elderly. Hospitals have been hit and people can't get anything to eat," he said.
"All of this is inhumane," he said. "Evil cannot be fought with evil. And war is an evil."
The pope then launched a "heartfelt appeal that the violence immediately end, that access to humanitarian aid — food and medicine — be given and that the injured and ill be evacuated" from an area under rebel control.
The pope's appeal came after intensified fighting in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus.
Although the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Feb. 24 for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, government forces continued their weeklong offensive against the rebel-held suburb of Ghouta. Humanitarian groups reported more than a dozen civilians were hospitalized for symptoms suspected to be associated with a chlorine gas attack.
Eastern Ghouta has been under fierce bombardment from Syrian government forces backed by Russian air power. It is the last major rebel-held suburb of Damascus.
Syria's military claims it is trying to free the enclave of "terrorists," but it has also been accused of targeting civilians. More than 500 people have been reported killed in an assault that started Feb. 18. Reports also claim more than 1,200 people have been injured. The situation has been exacerbated by air attacks on hospitals, clinics and ambulances. Remaining residents suffer from hunger and malnutrition.
A Syrian Christian political leader also joined the growing ranks of international condemnation over violent attacks.
"The struggle is no longer in the Syrian people's hands, it is a regional and an international conflict with colliding interests. What is happening in Afrin and Ghouta is tragic," Bassam Ishak said.
"It's a fight between regional and international countries, such as Russia, Iran and Turkey, seeking to acquire territory and influence and to establish their hegemony in these areas," said Ishak, who heads the Syriac National Council. He is also a member of the political bureau of the Syrian Democratic Council.