VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -- Pope Benedict on Monday urged the international community to end what he called the endless slaughter in Syria before the entire country became a "a field of ruins."
He made the appeal in particularly strong terms during a yearly "state of the world" address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican.
He said Syria, where the United Nations estimates that 60,000 people have been killed, was "torn apart by endless slaughter and (is) the scene of dreadful suffering among its civilian population".
He called for an "end to a conflict which will know no victors but only vanquished if it continues, leaving behind it nothing but a field of ruins."
Benedict urged the diplomats from nearly 180 countries and world organizations to push their governments to do everything possible to face "this grave humanitarian situation".
"Civil and political authorities before all others have a grave responsibility to work for peace ," he told the envoys gathered in the Sala Regia of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace.
"They are the first called to resolve the numerous conflicts causing bloodshed in our human family, beginning with that privileged region in God's plan, the Middle East," he said in an address delivered in French.
The pope spoke a day after Syrian President Bashar Assad rejected peace talks with his enemies in a defiant speech that his opponents described as a renewed declaration of war.