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UN chief warns over Syria attack

Any "punitive" action taken against Syria for the alleged chemical weapons attack could unleash more turmoil and bloodshed in that nation's civil war, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has warned.

Mr Ban also cautioned nations such as the United States and France that may be considering such strikes that they are legal only in self-defence under the UN Charter or if approved by the UN Security Council.

Russia and China have used their veto power in the Security Council multiple times to stop it taking action against Syrian president Bashar Assad's regime.

President Barack Obama has received key support from leaders in Congress for a potential strike. He is confident he will get the support of the US Congress to authorise military intervention.

The president indicated he is open to changes to his request for congressional support for strikes and said he was serious about consulting with Congress, as long as the resolution sends a clear message to Assad and hampers his ability to use chemical weapons.

He said he wants the American people to know: "This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan." He said action in Syria will be limited and proportional.

Congress is holding its first public hearing about plans for military intervention in Syria as Mr Obama tries to convince the country of the need to respond to the chemical weapons attack.

Secretary of state John Kerry, defence secretary Chuck Hagel and joint chiefs chairman General Martin Dempsey were to appear before the Senate foreign relations committee . A classified briefing open to all members of Congress was planned as well.

Mr Obama surprised the world over the weekend when he announced he would seek congressional authorisation for limited military strikes against Assad's regime.

The US says it has proof that the Assad regime is behind attacks that Washington claims killed at least 1,429 people, including more than 400 children.

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