GENEVA (AP) — Syria's government has agreed to a written deal with the United Nations and other international organizations that would allow aid workers and supplies to enter four hard-hit provinces, U.N. officials announced Tuesday.
The agreement with Damascus and representatives of the government in Geneva should allow convoys with supplies and aid workers from nine U.N. agencies and seven other non-governmental organizations to enter Daraa, Deir el-Zour, Homs and Idlib within days, said John Ging of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
"Whether this is a breakthrough or not will be measured in the coming weeks," Mr. Ging told reporters Tuesday in Geneva after emerging from a closed-door session to discuss the dire humanitarian situation in Syria.
Mr. Ging said the government has pledged to grant visas and clear up other bureaucratic hurdles that have blocked help from being delivered, and he hopes to have workers and supplies entering within "days, not weeks."
He said at least 1 million Syrians are in urgent need of some form of humanitarian aid, including people injured during fighting and families who have lost jobs or homes.
More than 78,000 Syrian refugees also were being helped in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, the U.N. refugee agency said.
Syria barred a string of U.S. and European diplomats Tuesday, saying they were "no longer welcome" as the country plunged into its most profound international isolation in decades.
Last week, Western nations expelled Syrian diplomats in a coordinated move over the Houla massacre, in which more than 100 people were slaughtered in one weekend in a cluster of small villages.
The United Nations says pro-regime gunmen were believed to be responsible for at least some of the killings. President Bashar Assad has insisted his forces had nothing to do it.
The countries targeted by the expulsion order already have pulled their ambassadors from Damascus, but the move was symbolic of how much diplomatic ties have disintegrated over the course of the uprising that began last year in March.
"Some countries have informed our diplomatic missions and our embassies' staff that they are unwelcome," Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said in a statement.
He said Damascus has decided to take a "reciprocal measure" against ambassadors from the United States, Britain, Turkey, Switzerland, France, Italy and Spain. A number of French, German, Canadian, Bulgarian and Belgian diplomats also are affected, Mr. Makdissi said.
Syria is struggling to crush an increasingly deadly uprising against Mr. Assad's rule, but the regime's deadly crackdown on dissent has brought widespread condemnation.