BEIJING An attack on Syria would be dangerous and irresponsible, and the world should remember the Iraq war was started by U.S. allegations of weapons of mass destruction which turned out to be false, China's official Xinhua news agency said on Tuesday.
The United States has served Syrian President Bashar al-Assad notice that it believes he was responsible for chemical weapons being used against civilians last week.
Military chiefs from the United States and its European and Middle Eastern allies have met in Jordan for what could be a council of war, should they decide to punish Assad, who has denied using chemical weapons and blamed rebels for the attacks.
Xinhua said that Western countries were rushing to conclusions about who may have used chemical weapons before U.N. inspectors had completed their investigation.
"Such rhetoric, as well as the recent flurry of consultations between Washington and its allies, indicates that they have put the arrow on the bowstring and would shoot even without a U.N. mandate," Xinhua said in an English-language commentary.
"That would be irresponsible and dangerous. For starters, the current scenario is reminiscent of the lead-up to the Iraq War, which the United States staged with allegations about weapons of mass destruction that later turned out to be false."
Xinhua commentaries do not carry the same weight as government statements, but they can be read as a reflection of official Chinese thinking.
China has urged all parties not to jump to conclusions about the results of the U.N. probe, and has urged calmness in dealing with the accusations.
"In the heat of the crisis, all parties concerned should keep their heads cool, especially those impatient to take military actions without a U.N. mandate," it said.
"It is imperative that the Unites States and like-minded countries refrain from hasty armed invention and let the U.N. play its due part in determining how to act accordingly."
Russia, Assad's key ally and arms supplier, says rebel forces may have been behind the attack and has urged Washington not to use military force against Assad.
Moscow and Beijing have both vetoed previous Western efforts to impose U.N. penalties on Assad.
But China 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. It has said a transitional government should be formed.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)