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Syria Grants Humanitarian Access As It Expels Western Diplomats


Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad (right) greets Major General Robert Mood, chief of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, in Damascus on June 5.
The Syrian government has agreed to allow 17 UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations into the country.

Earlier, Syria declared 17 U.S. and European diplomats "persona non grata" as violence in the country continues.

The announcement comes days after a number of Western countries expelled Syrian diplomats in response to the late May massacre of 108 people in Houla.

Syria, meanwhile, continued to top global diplomacy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, have jointly urged the international community to support the peace plan put forward by United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to resolve the Syrian conflict.

Russia and China, both veto-holding permanent members of the UN Security Council, have opposed efforts by Western powers to impose tough measures on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Speaking to journalists, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China and Russia oppose external intervention and regime change in Syria.

"Firstly, there should be an immediate end to violence to promote the easing of tensions quickly," he said. "Secondly, the political-dialogue process should be launched as soon as possible. Thirdly, we should strongly support the mediation of special envoy [Kofi] Annan. China and Russia share the same position on these points."

But speaking in Istanbul, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that confronting the chaos in Syria was necessary for regional security.

"Our goal is not to intervene in the internal affairs of Syria. On the contrary, we are aware that any fire in Syria would engulf the whole region," Erdogan said. "Therefore, we are speaking about this issue and trying to draw attention to the Syria issue."

Violence continued as the international disagreements over the way forward in Syria linger. At least 15 Syrian soldiers were killed on June 5 in clashes with rebels in the coastal province of Latakia, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.

The clashes took place in the region of al-Hafa, the Observatory said, adding that scores were wounded, while between 35 and 40 defected into the ranks of the rebels.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa
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