DAMASCUS- The Syrian government has agreed to let aid workers into the country, the UN says, even as the government of Bashar al-Assad expels foreign diplomats. It would be the first time humanitarian workers - aside from the International Committee of the Red Cross - have been granted permission to enter Syria.
The Syrian government has said it will let the United Nations enter the country and deliver humanitarian aid to people in need, a U.N. official said Tuesday.
"After a long time of very intense negotiations, we now have an agreement in writing with the Syrian government on the scale, scope and modality of humanitarian action in Syria," John Ging, director of operations at the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said in Geneva, Switzerland.
"Whether it's a breakthrough or not will depend on the action on the ground. I cannot predict what that will be, but we will work very hard to make it a breakthrough, because the people of Syria need us to break through with a much bigger humanitarian response."
Ging said the Syrian government has signed a memorandum that describes the planned humanitarian response for the approximately 1 million people who need humanitarian aid urgently.
The workers will initially be based in just four cities hard hit by the fighting: Homs, Deraa, Idlib, and Deir Azzor.
UN teams already have been sent to scout those areas, said John Ging, director of the co-ordination and response unit at the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
"Whether this is a breakthrough or not will be evident in the coming days and weeks, and it will be measured not in rhetoric, not in agreements, but in action on the ground," he said.
The announcement followed a meeting between international aid organizations and representatives of the Syrian Arab Republic, the third such meeting and the first to result in an agreement, he said.
In New York, the U.N. Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, said the need is urgent.
"If we don't get significant numbers of people in on the ground supporting the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, supporting those small NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) that are doing what they can, we are not going to be able to shift this," she told CNN International's "Amanpour."
But despite the humanitarian opening, Syria has also decided to declare 17 foreign diplomats unwelcome in the country.
The ambassadors of the US, UK, France and Turkey, among others, were declared personae non grata.
Canada, Italy, Spain and various embassy staff members from Belgium, Bulgaria and Germany were also named in the foreign ministry's statement.
Widespread violence continued on Wednesday, as many clashes and casualties reported according to activists accounts. State media, for its part, reported the deaths of two high-ranking army officers at the hands of "terrorist groups".