Opposition calls on pope to make 'gesture' for Syria

A leading Syrian opposition group called on newly elected Pope Francis on Thursday to "make a special gesture" for the country where more than 70,000 people have been killed in two years of conflict.

"Our people... hope that the new pope, who brings a message of love and peace, will make a special gesture for Syria, cradle of civilisations and crucible of religions... where peace and faith are being flagrantly violated," the Syrian National Council said.

"The man who was chosen is known for being very close to people's suffering and for being a defender of their rights, and this is a source of joy and hope for our people... who are paying a very high price for their freedom and dignity," it said.

Christians make up some five percent of the population of mainly Muslim Syria.

Many have tried to remain neutral in the country's spiralling conflict. Others have taken President Bashar al-Assad's side, for fear of the Islamists in rebel ranks.

The SNC is the largest armed opposition bloc within the National Coalition, recognised by most Arab and Western governments as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.