The UN human rights chief said on Monday there is little doubt that chemical weapons were used in Syria but she did not specify which of the combatants was suspected of using them.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay spoke two days ahead of the expected update from a UN panel probing for war crimes and other human rights abuses in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons.
The 47-nation UN Human Rights Council, which authorized the probe, is likely to consider a resolution on Syria before the end of its session. "The use of chemical weapons has long been identified as one of the gravest crimes that can be committed, yet their use in Syria seems now to be in little doubt, even if all the circumstances and responsibilities remain to be clarified," Pillay told the Geneva-based council.
Pillay noted that when she first urged action to end the Syrian crisis two years ago, some 2,600 Syrians had died in the conflict. Now the number of dead is over 100,000.
"The international community is late, very late to take serious joint action to halt the downward spiral that has gripped Syria, slaughtering its people and destroying its cities," she said.
"This appalling situation cries out for international action, yet a military response or the continued supply of arms risk igniting a regional conflagration, possibly resulting in many more deaths and even more widespread misery."
The United States has been seeking international support for limited strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's government, which it accuses of using chemical weapons in an Aug. 21 assault.
The US cites intelligence reports as saying it killed at least 1,429 people, including more than 400 children, though other estimates are much lower. Iran's ambassador, Mohsen Naziri Asl, did not directly address the issue of chemical weapons but said his nation agrees with Pillay on the dangers of sparking a deeper regional crisis.
"Military action risks igniting a regional war," he told the council. "The only way out of this situation is the immediate negotiation end the conflict."
Representatives of Italy and Qatar said they were convinced that Assad's government has used chemical weapons against its people, and said the international community must respond.
"The continuing crimes of the Syrian regime and its militias cannot be ignored," Qatar's ambassador, Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani, said. "It is moral duty of the international community to protect citizens against the repression of the regime." Allowing the regime to go unpunished, she added, "would give them an international license of kill."