VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday urged diplomats to work for immediate dialogue aimed at suspending the use of arms by all sides in Libya.
The pope told pilgrims in St. Peter's Square he was praying for harmony in Libya and North Africa, but was making "a heartfelt appeal . . . to immediately start a dialogue to suspend the use of arms."
Benedict said the "ever more dramatic news coming out of Libya" was increasing his "trepidation for the safety and security of the civilian population as well as (his) apprehension for how the situation, marked by the use of arms, is developing."
Libyan rebels took back a key oil town and were pushing westward toward the capital on Sunday, seizing momentum from U.N.-authorized international airstrikes that tipped the balance away from Moammar Gadhafi's military.
The pope also expressed concern over violent clashes rocking much of the Middle East in recent days. Benedict, saying he had in mind both "authorities and civilians of the Middle East," pressed for "the path of dialogue and reconciliation to have priority in the search for just and fraternal coexistence."
In his Sunday appeal last week, the pope issued an urgent appeal to military and political leaders to consider the safety of Libyan civilians and ensure they have access to emergency aid. Significantly, he didn't demand an immediate end to the U.S. and European air and missile strikes.