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Senator McCain Visits Syria, Meets Rebels

Sen. John McCain, a proponent of U.S. military action in Syria, crossed the Syrian border and met with rebels.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 5/28/2013, 4:14 AM

Senator John McCain
Senator John McCain
Reuters

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a proponent of U.S. military action in Syria and a vocal opponent of President Barack Obama's Syrian policy sneaked across the Syrian border and met with rebels there, CBS News reported on Monday.

The trip was in the works "for weeks, if not months," Mouaz Mustafa, the executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force who was with McCain all day, told CBS News.

"It's something the senator has wanted to do for quite some time because he's pro-active on the subject of the U.S. being more directly involved in Syria and helping to create the necessary changes on the ground to end the conflict," said Mustafa.

While on a trip to Turkey, McCain met with the leader of the Syrian rebels, Gen. Salem Idris, who accompanied the senator across the border at Bab Salameh and facilitated a series of meetings with assembled leaders of the Free Syrian Army, the report said.

Mustafa told CBS News that McCain went to two meetings in Gazantiep, Turkey - near the Syrian border - first and met with a dozen different commanders from all over Syria.

McCain then crossed Bab Salameh and met with a smaller gathering of brigade commanders near the border, Mustafa said. Idris attended all three meetings. McCain, who was inside Syria for roughly an hour, had two personal security guards with him.

McCain and one commander discussed Hizbullah’s increasing role in Syrian fighting and also the issue of extremism, when McCain asked commanders how to best combat extremism. The commanders agreed that the best way was for them to be armed under the command of Idris.

According to Mustafa, McCain said that the trip had been very important and that there was no substitute for meeting people and sitting down face to face. He said that more policymakers should make the trip inside and do the same.

McCain's visit was first reported by The Daily Beast which said that during the meetings, rebel leaders called on the U.S. to increase its support to the Syrian opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and Hizbullah forces.

"The visit of Senator McCain to Syria is very important and very useful especially at this time," Idris told the Daily Beast. "We need American help to have change on the ground; we are now in a very critical situation."

McCain's visit comes at a time when the Obama administration is mulling its next steps in Syria. To date, President Obama has only committed non-lethal aid, despite lawmakers' calls for more forceful action from the U.S. as the civil war there intensifies and threatens neighboring countries.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week passed a bill that would approve sending weapons to moderate rebel forces. The committee's chairman, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., stressed that "now is the time" to act to tip the balance toward resistance fighters.