VATICAN CITY, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- The pope said he was praying for an end to the violence in Syria and for peaceful dialogue with political forces.
Damascus gave the Arab League permission to send an observer mission to the country to ensure the government is upholding pledges to pull military forces from the streets. However, critics complain the Syrian government is being selective in what it allows the monitors to see.
Pope Benedict XVI during a state of the world address from the Vatican said he was praying for an end to the violence in Syria. He hoped for "fruitful dialogue" between political forces in the country, adding he was encouraged by the presence of the monitoring team, Vatican Radio reports.
During a Christmas Day mass, the head of the Catholic church offered a prayer for peace in Syria. About 10 percent of the population in Syria is Christian.
Syrian officials blame the ongoing civil unrest on foreign-backed armed terrorists, who they say have killed more than 2,000 security force members. The United Nations estimates at least 5,000 civilians have been killed in the country since an uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad began mid-March.
The BBC reported 20 deaths in the country Sunday, and more than 100 during the past three days in the government crackdown against protesters.
The Arab League mission has been in Syria since late December.