U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on the U.N. Security Council to "find unity" on the situation in Syria, and says a U.N. team investigating an alleged chemical attack near Damascus last week needs time to do its work.
Mr. Ban said in a speech Wednesday in The Hague that the latest escalation in Syria has caused "horrendous casualties" and produced images unlike any the world has seen this century. He strongly criticized the use of chemical weapons, saying any deployment, at any time, under any circumstances would represent "an atrocious violation of international law."
Syria has denied carrying out a chemical attack.
The U.N. team probing the alleged attack resumed its work Wednesday, a day after postponing their on-site investigation because of security concerns.
Mr. Ban reiterated the need for a political solution in Syria, saying military aid to both sides of the conflict has so far produced a country "on the verge of collapse."
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is warning that foreign military intervention in Syria would destabilize the country and the region.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Lavrov stressed the need for a political solution in a phone call with U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, and that the two diplomats agreed all parties inside and outside Syria must act responsibly.
Brahimi has been working for a year to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis, which since March 2011 has left more than 100,000 people dead and millions more displaced.
Western powers and the Arab League have condemned what they say was clearly a chemical attack by Syrian forces last week that killed hundreds of people.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem reiterated Tuesday his country's denial that it carried out a chemical attack and challenged the United States and its European allies to show evidence.
He said Syria's opponents are using the allegations as an excuse to attack, and vowed to strike back.
The Arab League has also condemned the alleged attack, blaming the Syrian government and demanding those responsible be put on trial.
U.S. officials have said there is "no doubt" Syrian forces used chemical weapons, and that President Barack Obama could decide on a response within days.
In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled his country's parliament to discuss the situation on Thursday. He said any action would be a response to the use of chemical weapons, and not intended to draw Western powers further into the Syrian conflict.
French President Francois Hollande says his country is ready to punish those who made the "vile" decision to gas innocent people. He also promised France will increase its military support to the main Syrian opposition group.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of a "forceful" response if Syria makes any attempt to attack Israel.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu denounced the Syrian government's alleged chemical weapon attacks near Damascus as a "crime against humanity" and said it must "not go unanswered."
But China's state news agency Xinhua cautioned against a rush to military action. In a Tuesday commentary, it said the world should remember that the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq followed U.S. allegations that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons were never found.