SyriaMcCain meets with Syrian rebel leaders in Syria

Published 28 May 2013

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) on Monday, Memorial Day, met with Syrian rebel leaders. McCain’s visit makes him the highest ranking U.S. official to enter Syria since the civil war began in 2011.Rebel commanders asked that the U.S. consider providing heavy arms to the Free Syrian Army, set up a no-fly zone in Syria, and conduct airstrikes on Hezbollah. McCain, for his part, asked the rebels how they planned to reduce the presence of Islamic extremists in rebel ranks.

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) on Monday, Memorial Day, met with Syrian rebel leaders.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Elizabeth O’Bagy, political director for the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a U.S.-based nonprofit providing support to the opposition,said the senator met with FSA commanders, including General Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), in two meetings in Gaziantep, Turkey, and in one meeting about half a mile inside the Syrian border at the Bab Salameh border crossing. There, he held talks with Asifat al-Shamal (Northern Storm Brigade), which controls the crossing.

Gen. Idriss and other rebel commanders asked that the U.S. consider providing heavy arms to the Free Syrian Army, set up a no-fly zone in Syria, and conduct airstrikes on Hezbollah.

O’Bagy noted that McCain, for his part, asked the rebels how they planned to reduce the presence of Islamic extremists in rebel ranks.

Gen. Idriss told the Daily Beast that McCain’s visit was “very useful” and that the rebels needed American help.

“What we want from the U.S. government is to take the decision to support the Syrian revolution with weapons and ammunition, antitank missiles and antiaircraft weapons,” Idriss said. “Of course we want a no-fly zone and we ask for strategic strikes against Hezbollah both inside Lebanon and inside Syria.”

McCain’s visit makes him the highest ranking U.S. official to enter Syria since the civil war began in 2011. McCain has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration, and a strong advocate for U.S. action in Syria, proposing airstrikes and “large-scale” training and arming of rebels in his Senate remarks this month. The senator’s visit came the same day that European Union officials reportedly decided to lift an embargo on providing arms to the Syrian opposition.

The administration has been reluctant to send arm to the Syrian rebels for fears that the weapons could end up in the hands of Islamist militants, or other anti-U.S. terrorist organizations. Some Syrian rebel groups are linked to al Qaeda.

The administration has been intensifying its diplomatic efforts to bring the war to an end.  Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Russia to meet with his Russian counterpart in order to discuss ways to end the conflict.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week approved a bill which would allow the administration to arm the Syrian rebels. Supporters of the measure say arming the rebels is imperative to ending the war which has claimed 80,000 lives and destroyed the country.

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