Pope Benedict XVI has used his traditional Christmas Day message to pray for an end to the bloodshed in Syria.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church said: “May the Lord bring an end to the violence in Syria, where much blood has already been shed.”

He also urged the world to help famine victims in the Horn of Africa.

The “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the city and the world”) message was broadcast around the world in 65 languages.

At Christmas Mass on Saturday, the pontiff attacked the commercialisation of the Christian festival.

He urged worshippers to “see through the superficial glitter”.

‘Torn world’

Speaking in Italian from a balcony above St Peter’s Square, the pontiff spoke out against wars in general.

“May the Lord come to the aid of our world torn by so many conflicts which even today stain the Earth with blood,” he said.

His remarks on Syria come after a year which has seen more than 5,000 civilians killed as the government seeks to suppress dissent.

Officials said on Friday that two suicide car bombings in Damascus had killed 44 people and left more than 150 injured. The government blamed al-Qaeda, but its opponents suggested security forces were behind the blasts.

On Sunday, human rights and opposition activists said troops had killed at least 10 people, including five in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour.

Addressing the “Arab Spring” as a whole, Pope Benedict prayed for “renewed vigour for all elements of society in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East as they strive to advance the common good”.

The Pope also called for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as in the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the newly created state of South Sudan. He called for dialogue in Burma, which has recently seen signs of limited reform.

Jesus Christ, Pope Benedict said, had “brought to the world a universal message of reconciliation and peace”.

Remembering Africa’s famine victims, he also prayed for flood sufferers in Thailand and the Philippines.

‘Cloaks rolled in blood’

The Christmas Mass in Rome had been brought forward two hours from midnight (23:00) to 22:00 in order to spare the 84-year-old Pope a late night.

He urged the faithful to focus on the story of Jesus’s birth, saying this would help “find true joy and true light”.

Praying for those who would spend this Christmas in poverty and suffering, he attacked “oppressors” and warmongers.

“In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours,” he said.

Even if he is physically more frail now, his message was firm, the BBC’s Alan Johnston in Rome says.