G20 leaders, ministers in talks to avoid U.S.-led strike on Syria

St. Petersburg, Russia, Sep 6 (EFE).- The heads of state and government and foreign ministers taking part here in the G20 summit stepped up diplomatic contacts Friday aimed at averting a U.S.-led strike on Syria over Damascus' alleged use of chemical weapons.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, whose country is the main ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and staunchly opposes U.S. military action, held a round of bilateral meetings Friday morning with his Chinese, Canadian, French and Turkish counterparts.

Later, he hosted a lunch attended by the foreign ministers of the G20 nations and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as well as Ban's special representative for the Syrian conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi.

On Friday morning, the U.N. chief once again warned the world leaders that a military strike on the Arab nation would only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in that country and urged them to agree to convene an international conference in Geneva as soon as possible.

To gather support for a potential peace conference, Ban met Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss "the conflict in Syria, the worsening of the humanitarian crisis and the investigation (by U.N. weapons inspectors) into the use of chemical weapons" in Syria, a U.N. spokesperson said.

He also held another bilateral meeting on Syria with French President Fran├žois Hollande that was attended by Brahimi and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

France has pledged its support for U.S. military action against Syria provided the U.S. Congress gives President Barack Obama the go-ahead to order the attacks, making it the only European country willing to participate in what the United States has promised will be a "limited" intervention.

The French government, however, has come under heavy criticism domestically for backing a military assault without U.N. authorization.

Although the Syrian conflict was not officially on the summit agenda, the leaders took up the issue at a dinner on Thursday evening.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved on Wednesday a bill that would authorize Obama to order attacks on Syria to punish Damascus for its alleged use of chemical weapons against rebels.

The measure, which passed the committee by a vote of 10-7 with one abstention, is likely to be considered by the full Senate next week.

The United States and the Syrian opposition say forces loyal to Assad killed more than 1,400 people on Aug. 21 in a chemical weapons attack near Damascus, an accusation vehemently denied by the Syrian government.

Syria's civil war has claimed some 100,000 lives since March 2011.