BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top newspaper said on Wednesday the United States and its allies were seeking to use the issue of chemical weapons to pursue regime change in Syria illegally and fan an already ugly and difficult conflict.
The United States and its allies are gearing up for a probable military strike against Syria that could come within days and would be the most aggressive action by Western powers in the Middle Eastern nation's two-and-a-half-year civil war.
Western envoys have told the Syrian opposition to expect a military response soon against President Bashar al-Assad's forces as punishment for a chemical weapons attack last week, according to sources who attended a meeting with the rebel Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul.
The People's Daily, the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party, said the overthrow of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein a decade ago on the pretext he had weapons of mass destruction risked repeating itself in Syria.
"The essence of the Iraq war was to circumvent the United Nations and change the government of a sovereign nation with the aid of force," the newspaper said in a commentary, which it said "contravened the basic principles of morality and justice".
"The international community must be on high alert for certain foreign forces repeating this method in Syria," the paper said. "Since the start of Syria's civil war, the impulse to forcefully topple the Assad government has never vanished."
It also said the world should wait for the outcome of investigations by U.N. experts into the suspected use of chemical weapons.
Schemes to protect Syria's opposition, including no-fly zones, would only succeed in dividing the unity of the U.N. Security Council and make it more difficult for the international community to help seek a resolution.
"It even adds oil to the flames of Syria's civil war," The People's Daily said.
The world should be patient in waiting for the outcome of a probe into the suspected use of chemical weapons by U.N. experts, the newspaper said.
The commentary was published under the pen name "Zhong Sheng", meaning "Voice of China", which is often used to give the paper's view on foreign policy issues.
China has repeatedly condemned any plan that hinted at outside interference or proposed "regime change". China and Russia have vetoed proposed U.N. Security Council resolutions intended to put pressure on Assad.
Beijing also has been keen to show it is not taking sides and has urged the Syrian government to talk to the opposition and take steps to meet demands for political change, and that a transitional government should be formed.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait)