In an unusual move, three Republican members of the US Congress visited Turkish-backed, opposition-controlled areas in northwest Syria on Sunday. The visit is viewed as Capitol Hill’s reaffirmation of support for the Syrian opposition, particularly in light of the Assad regime’s improving relations with the Arab League.
The delegation, including French Hill (R-Ark.), Ben Cline (R-Va.), and Scott Fitzgerald (R-Wis.), entered northwest Syria via the Bab al-Salama border crossing, under Turkish military escort on Sunday. Their agenda featured visits to humanitarian facilities operated by the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a US-based advocacy group which has received significant donations from Hill’s constituents in Arkansas.
This visit occurs against the backdrop of a seemingly stagnant Syrian conflict, where Assad’s forces dominate most regions except for the north, which is under the control of Turkish-backed factions, and the northeast, governed by the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North East Syria (AANES).
The lawmakers’ visit coincided with recent anti-government protests in southern Syria, particularly in the Druze-majority city of Sweida and Daraa, known as the birthplace of Syria’s anti-Assad uprising in 2011.
Visits by US lawmakers to Syria are infrequent. The last recorded visits were by Senators Lindsey Graham and Jeanne Shaheen in 2018 to Manbij, and by the late Senator John McCain in 2017 to Kurdish-controlled areas.
The trip occurs as Assad is increasingly accepted by neighbouring countries that had previously cut ties with him. The Arab League readmitted Syria earlier this year, and Saudi Arabia has restored diplomatic relations. The US, however, maintains its opposition to such moves, citing human rights abuses by the Assad regime.