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Ban Ki-moon appeals for diplomatic solution as powers appear to move toward Syria strikes

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands - United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pleaded Wednesday for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian conflict, even as world powers appeared to be moving toward punitive military strikes against President Bashar Assad's regime for what the United States and its allies say was a deadly chemical weapons attack.

Ban said Wednesday a United Nation team investigating the alleged chemical attack must be given time to establish the facts. The investigators left their hotel Wednesday, and two anti-regime activists said the team was expected to visit an eastern suburb of the capital, Damascus, affected by the Aug. 21 strike that the group Doctors Without Borders says killed 355 people.

Syria has denied it was behind the alleged attack and challenged Washington to present proof to back up its accusations

Ban said the team already has already "gathered valuable samples and interviewed victims and witnesses."

He also urged the United Nations Security Council, whose permanent members are bitterly divided over Syria, not to go "missing in action" as the Syria crisis deepens.

Ban was speaking in the Great Hall of Justice at the Peace Palace in The Hague, which is marking its 100th anniversary.

The timing of the celebrations in The Hague was uncomfortable; the Peace Palace opened its doors in 1913 as a venue for peaceful resolution of conflicts and currently houses the United Nations' International Court of Justice but Washington is building support for a military attack on Syria — possibly without U.N. backing.

Without explicitly referring to moves apparently preparing for military action by Washington and its allies, Ban urged a peaceful resolution to Syria's civil war.

"Here in the Peace Palace, let us say: Give peace a chance. Give diplomacy a chance. Stop fighting and start talking," Ban said.

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