Three Congressmen traveled to a region of Syria controlled by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an offshoot of al-Qaeda. The Congressional delegation met with several Syrians who were suffering and blamed President Bashar al-Assad for poor living conditions.
Republican Congressmen Ben Cline, Scott Fitzgerald, and French Hill spent about thirty minutes inside rebel-held Syrian territory on Sunday morning, according to the Washington Post. The State Department limited the travel of the Representatives over security concerns.
The short visit to Syria included stops at the Bab al-Salama border post and a hospital in the Aleppo district. The region is controlled by HTS, which the Office of the Director of National Intelligence says “evolved from Jabhat al-Nusra, or “Nusra Front,” al-Qeada’s former branch in Syria.”
HTS hopes to overthrow Assad to establish a “government guided by a fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law.” Additionally, the DNI admits the group uses common terror tactics such as suicide bombings.
Still, Congressman Hill voiced support for HTS’s desire to overthrow Assad. “The Assad regime’s production and distribution of [illegal drugs] is threatening regional societies and financially fueling Assad’s reign of terror, which must be stopped,” he said while in Syria. “The Syrian people have endured more than a decade of war, murder, and torture. It is imperative that nations across the globe, including the United States, work together to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and to counter the Assad regime.”
However, Washington’s decade-long policy of attempting to overthrow Assad’s government has led to the intense suffering of the Syrian people. During the Obama administration, the CIA armed and funded rebel groups opposing Assad. The program fueled the insurgency and led to the rise of the Islamic State and other jihad groups in Syria, such as HTS and Nusra.
Syria has been heavily targeted by American sanctions. The economic warfare against Damascus has caused widespread suffering of the Syrian people. Earlier this year, after a massive earthquake struck Syria, the White House refused to lift sanctions on Damascus, preventing crucial aid from reaching victims.
Congressman Hill went on to call on other countries in the Middle East to refuse to normalize their relationship with Damascus. Doing so would boost Syria’s economic ties in the region and the living standards of the Syrian people.
While in Syria, the Congressmen met with members of the White Helmets. Through the Syrian war, the group has operated as a public relations management firm for jihadist groups, like Nusra.