Last Updated: August 27, 2023, 22:08 IST
Washington D.C., United States of America (USA)
Three U.S. Congress members made a brief visit to opposition-held northwest Syria on Sunday, the first known trip to the war-torn country by American lawmakers in six years.
Reps. Ben Cline of Virginia, French Hill of Arkansas and Scott Fitzgerald of Wisconsin, all Republicans, entered Syria from Turkey via the Bab al-Salama crossing in northern Aleppo province, two people familiar with the trip said. They spoke on condition of anonymity after the U.S. delegation had left Syria, because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Near the crossing, they met with students from Wisdom House, a school for orphans in Idlib that is a project of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a U.S.-based Syrian opposition organization that facilitated the lawmakers’ trip. Hill has been one of the most vocal supporters in Congress of the Syrian opposition, and his Arkansas constituents have been major donors to the school.
The Americans also met with Syrian opposition leaders, humanitarian workers and people displaced by Syria’s war, organizers of the trip said.
The last known trip by a U.S. lawmaker to Syria was in 2017, when Republican Sen. John McCain visited U.S. forces stationed in northeast Syria’s Kurdish region. McCain had previously visited Syria and met with armed opposition fighters.
Also in 2017, Hawaii Democrat Rep. Tulsi Gabbard visited Damascus and met with Syrian President Bashar Assad, a decision that was widely criticized at the time. Since the beginning of the 2011 uprising-turned-civil-war in Syria, the U.S. government has backed the opposition and has slapped sanctions on Assad’s government and associates over human rights concerns. Washington has conditioned restoring relations with Damascus on progress toward a political solution to the 12-year conflict.
Control of northwest Syria is largely split between the Turkish-backed opposition groups and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group that was originally founded as an offshoot of al-Qaida and is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States. In recent years, the group’s leadership have attempted to publicly distance themselves from their al-Qaida origins.
The Turkish-backed opposition groups have regularly clashed with Kurdish forces based in northeast Syria, who are allies of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State.