DAMASCUS - The use of chemical weapons in Syria would constitute a "crime against humanity", UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Friday, adding there was "no time to lose" in investigating an alleged attack which the opposition says killed hundreds.
Ban described reports of the incident near Damascus on Wednesday as "very alarming and shocking" and urged the regime to allow a United Nations inspection team, already on the ground in Syria, to begin a probe without delay.
Footage distributed by activists showing unconscious children, people foaming around the mouth and doctors apparently administering oxygen to help them breathe has triggered revulsion around the world.
Ban's comments, at a United Nations event in Seoul, piled more pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after French president Francois Hollande denounced the "likely" use of chemical weapons.
"Any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anybody, under any circumstances, would violate international law," Ban said. "Such a crime against humanity should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator."
"This is a grave challenge to the entire international community - and to our common humanity," he said.
"There is no time to waste," Ban said, adding that he had instructed his envoy for disarmament affairs, Angela Kane, to travel to Damascus immediately.
"I can think of no good reason why any party - either government or opposition forces - would decline this opportunity to get to the truth of the matter."