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UN says Syria has granted permission for aid workers to enter 4 hard-hit provinces
GENEVA (AP) ' United Nations officials say that Syria has granted permission for aid workers to enter four hard-hit provinces.
John Ging of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the Syrian government agreed in writing to allow in aid workers and convoys with supplies to Daraa, Deir el-Zour, Homs and Idlib.
Ging told reporters Tuesday that Damascus and an ambassador in Geneva pledged to grant visas and clear up the other bureaucratic hurdles that have blocked help from being delivered by nine U.N. agencies and seven international non-governmental organizations.
Ging said that "whether this is a breakthrough or not will be measured in the coming weeks" by whether Syria makes good on its promise.
He says he hopes to have workers and supplies entering within days, not weeks.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
BEIRUT (AP) ' 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 over one weekend in a cluster of small villages.
The U.N. 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 with the massacre.
The countries targeted by the expulsion order have already pulled their ambassadors from Damascus, but the move was symbolic of how far 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," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said in a statement.
He said Damascus has decided to take a "reciprocal measure" against ambassadors from the U.S., Britain, Turkey, Switzerland, France, Italy and Spain. A number of French, German, Canadian, Bulgarian and Belgian diplomats also are affected, Makdessi said.
Syria is struggling to crush an increasingly deadly uprising against Assad's rule, but the regime's deadly crackdown on dissent has brought widespread condemnation.