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Pope Francis appeals for peace in Syria in Easter message

Pope Francis has delivered his first Easter message, making a call for peace in the Middle East. Syria, in particular, was a key theme as the pontiff gave his "Urbi et Orbi" blessing in front of thousands.

Delivering his "Urbi et Orbi" speech - meaning "to the city and the world" in Latin - at St. Peter's Square on Sunday, the pope made an appeal for peace in the Middle East.

Pope Francis spoke about conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, which he said had been going on for "all too long," as well as in Iraq where he prayed that "every act of violence may end."

However, the pope - speaking in front of some 250,000 people - placed particular emphasis on his appeal for peace in Syria, where a civil war has entered its third year.

Pope makes Easter plea for peace

"Above all, for dear Syria," he said. "For its people, torn by conflict; for the many refugees who need help and comfort. How much blood has been shed and how much suffering must there be before a political solution is found?"

Pope Francis drew attention to other trouble spots around the world, such as Mali, Nigeria and the Central African Republic in Africa. In Asia, the pope placed special emphasis on the Korean peninsula.

The 76-year-old ended by addressing global issues, in particular the "extensive and widespread" problem of human trafficking, the drugs trade and the "iniquitous exploitation of natural resources."

Earlier, he had presided over his first Easter Sunday mass in front of followers in St. Peter's Square.

Breaking with the past

Francis has already become known for attempting to establish a papacy with a tone of humility and simplicity.

At an Easter vigil on Saturday, Francis urged non-believers and lapsed Catholics to "step forward" towards God.

The new pontiff made a break with tradition on Thursday by washing the feet of prisoners at a jail near Rome, including women and Muslims. In the past, the pope has generally reserved this honor on Holy Thursday for fellow clergymen.

Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina, was Archbishop of Buenos Aires when he was elected on March 13 to head the Catholic Church, replacing Germany's Pope Benedict XVI .

As the first ever pope to hail from the Americas, Francis is also the first pontiff from outside Europe in nearly 1,300 years.

rc/kms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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