Pope Benedict XVI wished Christmas peace to the world on Tuesday, decrying the slaughter of the “defenceless” in Syria and urging Israelis and Palestinians to find the courage to negotiate.

Delivering the Vatican’s traditional Christmas day message from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Benedict also encouraged Arab spring nations, especially Egypt, to build just and respectful societies.

As the 85-year-old pontiff, bundled up in an ermine-trimmed red cape, gingerly stepped foot on the balcony, the pilgrims, tourists and Romans below backing St. Peter’s Square erupted in cheers.

Less than 12 hours earlier, Pope Benedict had led a two-hour long Christmas Eve ceremony in the basilica. He sounded hoarse and looked weary as he read his Christmas message and then holiday greetings in 65 languages.

In his “Urbi et Orbi” speech, which traditionally reviews world events and global challenges, Pope Benedict prayed that “peace spring up for the people of Syria, deeply wounded and divided by a conflict that does not spare even the defenceless and reaps innocent victims.”

Pope Benedict prayed that God “grant Israelis and Palestinians courage to end long years of conflict and division, and to embark resolutely on the path to negotiation.”

Israel, backed by the United States, opposed the Palestinian statehood bid, saying it was a ploy to bypass negotiations, something the Palestinians deny. Talks stalled four years ago.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said that in a meeting with the pope last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “emphasised our total readiness to resume negotiations.” The Palestinians have not dropped their demand that Israel first stop settlement activities before returning to the negotiating table.

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