By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict called on Sunday for the "suspension of the use of arms" in the Libya crisis and expressed concern for civilian populations, an appeal that appeared to include the use of outside force.
Speaking at his Sunday blessing, he said he was addressing his appeal to "international bodies," and "those who hold military and political responsibility" and did not speak of a "ceasefire" between opposing Libyan factions.
He said he was praying for a return of peace in Libya and the entire North African region.
"I appeal to international bodies and whose who hold military and political responsibility for an immediate start of a dialogue that suspends the use of arms," he told pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square.
In his most comprehensive and political comments since the Libya crisis began, he said he was increasingly worried about the "safety and security of civilian populations" and lamented that the current situation was "under the sign of the use of weapons."
Armed forces of Western nations including the United States, France and Britain have been pounding forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi to prevent further bloodshed in the Libyan leader's violent crackdown of a popular revolt.
Thousands of people have been killed in the uprising, according to Western estimates.
The French armed forces said around 20 French aircraft supported by an AWACS surveillance plane struck targets in Misrata during the day on Saturday, including five Galeb fighter jets and two MI-35 helicopters on the ground outside Misrata.
Last week Libyan officials said nearly 100 civilians had been killed in the coalition strikes.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates dismissed the assertion on Saturday, saying: "The truth of the matter is we have trouble coming up with proof of any civilian casualties that we have been responsible for."
Italy has said it will propose that it and Germany back a joint plan on Libya that involves a ceasefire, a humanitarian corridor and exile for Gaddafi.
(Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)