Republican Sen. John McCain has quietly slipped into Syria for a meeting with Syrian rebels.
Spokeswoman Rachel Dean confirms the Arizona Republican made the visit after it was reported by The Daily Beast. She declined further comment about the trip.
The visit took place amid meetings in Paris involving efforts to secure participation of Syria's fractured opposition in an international peace conference in Geneva.
Two years of violence in Syria has killed more than 70,000 people. President Barack Obama has demanded that Syrian President Bashar Assad leave power, while Russia has stood by Syria, its closest ally in the Arab world.
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McCain has been a leading proponent of arming the rebels and other aggressive military steps against the Assad regime. He has criticized Obama administration policy there while stopping short of backing U.S. ground troops in Syria.
McCain met with leaders of Free Syrian Army units, who called on the United States to step up its support for the opposition. The rebels asked for “heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah,” The Daily Beast reported.
Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, lauded McCain’s visit, saying U.S. involvement in aiding the rebels is critical in ending the country’s civil war.
“The visit of Senator McCain to Syria is very important and very useful, especially at this time,” he said. “We need American help to have change on the ground; we are now in a very critical situation.
“What we want from the U.S. government is to take the decision to support the Syrian revolution with weapons and ammunition, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft weapons,” he added. “Of course, we want a no-fly zone and we ask for strategic strikes against Hezbollah both inside Lebanon and inside Syria.”
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