Three US Congress members make rare visit to northern Syria

French Hill, Ben Cline and Scott Fitzgerald visit comes amid anti-regime protests in region

A convoy transporting a delegation of US representatives arrives through Syria's Bab al-Salam crossing with Turkey as part of their visit to the rebel-held areas of Aleppo province, on August 27, 2023. Bakr ALKASEM  /  AFP
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Three US Congress members entered northern Syria on Sunday in a rare visit by American politicians.

French Hill, Ben Cline and Scott Fitzgerald, all Republican representatives, briefly entered northern Syria through the Bab Al Salam crossing in Aleppo province.

The delegation met pupils from a local school and opposition and humanitarian leaders, AP reported.

"I had the pleasure of visiting both the beautiful children of SETF’s sponsored school for orphans, the Wisdom House, in north-west Syria and their sponsored healthcare residence for chronically ill Syrians, the House of Healing, in Gaziantep, Turkey," Mr Hill said in a statement.

Their visit to northern Syria, a territory controlled by pro-Turkish factions, is uncommon for US politicians.

The last known visit by a US legislator occurred in 2017, when the late Senator John McCain visited troops stationed in north-east Syria.

The trip comes amid a rise in protests against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

Syrians have taken to the streets in significant numbers in recent days in cities and villages across the country. The largest protests have occurred in the mostly Druze governorate of Suweida in south-west Syria.

Young demonstrators welded shut the provincial headquarters of the ruling Baath party in the city of Suweida, opposition sources said on Sunday.

The demonstrations began after authorities decided to double fuel prices, adding to the crisis in the cost of living.

Unrest in Syria and renewed dissent elsewhere show difficulties in Mr Al Assad's quest to consolidate his power, especially after his country's readmission to the Arab League in May.

Washington has been critical of governments that have re-established relations with Damascus in recent months.

In May, the Assad Anti-Normalisation Act was introduced into Congress. The bill would codify Washington's opposition to relations with the Syrian regime.

Mr Hill has been a vocal critic of the Syrian regime and has led efforts in Congress to crack down on the illegal Captagon trade.

"The Assad regime’s production and distribution of this illegal drug is threatening regional societies and financially fuelling Assad’s reign of terror, which must be stopped," he said.

The Syrian civil war, which continues to simmer, has claimed the lives of more than 300,000 people and created a decades-long humanitarian crisis.

More than 5 million Syrians live as refugees in other countries, while nearly 7 million are displaced inside the country.

“The Syrian people have endured more than a decade of war, murder and torture," Mr Hill said. "It is imperative that nations across the globe, including the US, work together to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and to counter the Assad regime."

*A previous version of this article attributed AP reporting to the office of French Hill

Updated: August 28, 2023, 7:20 PM