A UN report detailing the Damascus chemical attack has bolstered the US argument that Syria's government was responsible, says the White House.
US President Barack Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, said on Monday that the technical evidence in the UN report, including that the sarin nerve agent was of high quality and that a particular rocket was used in the attack, is significant.
The conclusion "reinforces our assessment that these attacks were carried out by the Syrian regime, as only they had the capability to mount an attack in this manner", she said.
The United Nations (UN) has sharply reduced its humanitarian and development staff in Syria since last month's chemical weapons attacks, making delivery of assistance to a war-torn people even more challenging, a UN official said on Monday.
"Our footprint has been reduced, but we have not shut down," said UN under-secretary general Rebeca Grynspan.
The UN country team was cut to 65 international staffers by mid-September from 136, and the United National Development Programme (UNDP) has three international staffers, the UN said.
The US threatened to punish Syria after a chemical-weapons assault on a rebel-held Damascus suburb on August 21, which Washington said killed 1 400 people, including 400 children.
But US President Barack Obama last week put on hold efforts to win congressional support for military strikes to give diplomacy more time.
UN investigators confirmed on Monday that the nerve gas sarin was used in the attack.
Grynspan said that while the UN is still operating in Syria, staff cutbacks have made delivery of aid more of a challenge.
The civil war in Syria has devastated the country and created a massive humanitarian crisis affecting more than half its population.
More than six million Syrians have fled in two and half years of conflict and four million more are internally displaced. Syrians continue to leave at a rate of 5 000 a day, straining resources in neighbouring countries.
Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, in that order, have taken in the most refugees. But they are running out of funds to provide basic services.
In Jordan for example, police are straining to deal with crime and to provide basic security in the Zaatari refugee camp, which has a population of more than 150 000, equal to the size of Jordan's fourth-largest city.
Grynspan said more funding for UNDP programs is critical.
UNDP has budgeted $61.4-million for assistance programmes in Lebanon and Jordan, and for its Syrian programmes, but faces a $44.1-million shortfall.
The UN announced last week that it would release $50-million from its emergency reserves for regional relief efforts. UNDP programs in Syria undertake rubble removal and provide emergency job help and infrastructure to support humanitarian relief.
Grynspan said investing in the countries receiving refugees is important to prevent violence and upheaval from spreading.
"We have learned that is important to prevent conflict and ensure that the host community does not turn hostile," she said. – Reuters