US Republican Senator John McCain, a former presidential candidate who supports military aid to the Syrian opposition, entered Syria from the country's border with Turkey and met with the opposition for several hours before returning to Turkey on Monday.
A senior Turkish diplomat who spoke to Today's Zaman on condition of anonymity confirmed McCain's visit and said the relevant authorities in Turkey had the necessary information regarding the visit. However, the diplomat added that the Turkish Foreign Ministry would not make an official statement about the senator's visit.
During a surprise visit to the war-torn country, McCain met with senior Syrian opposition fighters struggling to topple President Bashar al-Assad, including Gen. Salem Idris, who leads the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army.
According to news reports, Idris accompanied the senator across the border at the Bab al-Salameh border crossing. McCain met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units in both Turkey and Syria, added the reports.
McCain's spokesman, Brian Rogers, had confirmed McCain's meeting with the opposition forces but declined to give any details about the visit.
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.
Mustafa said McCain first attended two meetings in Turkey's southeastern province of Gaziantep and met with a dozen different commanders from all over Syria.
According to Mustafa, McCain then crossed into Syria from Bab al-Salameh and met with a smaller gathering of brigade commanders near the border. Idris attended all three meetings. McCain, who was inside Syria for approximately an hour, had two personal security guards with him.
In an interview with the Daily Beast, Idris stated that McCain's visit came at a critical time for the opposition forces, who have stepped up their calls for US support, including heavy weapons, creation of a no-fly zone and air strikes.
"The visit of Senator McCain to Syria is very important and very useful especially at this time," the publication quoted Idris as saying. "We need American help to have change on the ground; we are now in a very critical situation."
McCain's visit comes the same day the European Union announced that it is lifting an arms embargo to Syria. This would allow member countries to send weapons if they want to, but EU officials said no decision has been made to go ahead and do so.
McCain called for US military aid to the forces opposing Assad in a Time magazine column earlier this month, arguing that the cost of inaction outweighed the cost of intervention.
"The US does not have to act alone, put boots on the ground or destroy every Syrian air-defense system to make a difference," McCain wrote, arguing that training for the opposition forces, targeted air strikes and the stationing of Patriot missiles just across the border would help change the current dynamic.
US President Barack Obama's administration has increased humanitarian aid but has stopped short of providing lethal assistance to Syrian opposition forces. Obama has resisted pressure to deepen US involvement in Syria's civil war, wary of getting US forces embroiled in another ground war just as American troops are preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan.
CihanLast Mod: 29 Mayıs 2013, 10:08