US Senator McCain meets Syrian rebels in Turkey, calls for greater support against ISIL

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U.S. Senator John McCain met with members of the Syrian opposition in Gaziantep on July 1 amid a warning from fragmented rebels that they will lay down their arms in a week if they do not receive aid in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Following his meeting with representatives from the Syrian National Council (SNC), the rebel interim government, civil society activists, and commanders from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the senator called for a strategy to provide greater support to Syrian opposition as parts of efforts to defeat ISIL.

McCain said he had been given firsthand accounts of the “deteriorating security and humanitarian situation on the ground inside Syria, and how the recent offensive by ISIL in Iraq is shifting dynamics on the battlefield in favor of extremists in both countries.”

He added that the Syrian opposition was fighting a two-front war against the Bashar al-Assad regime on the one side and al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist organizations like ISIL on the other.

“We need a strategy that can force al-Assad to leave power and defeat ISIL in both Syria and Iraq, and that strategy should start with greater support to these Syrian opposition forces, especially vital military training and assistance, such as anti-armor and anti-air capabilities and support for creating a safe zone in Syria,” the senator said. ISIL renamed itself simply as the Islamic State (IS) after its leader declared a new Islamic state in lands seized last month across a swathe of Iraq and Syria.

Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba and the leader of the Free Syrian Army, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir, held talks in Washington in May urging members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to authorize the supply of arms, particularly for anti-aircraft weapons. However, the Obama administration is worried that such weapons could fall into the hands of extremist opposition groups such as ISIL and the al-Nusra Front.

And yesterday, rebels from northern and eastern Syria threatened to lay down their arms in a week if the country’s exiled opposition does not help them fight ISIL. “We, the leaders of the brigades and battalions… give the National Coalition, the [opposition] interim government, the [rebel] Supreme Military Council and all the leading bodies of the Syrian revolution a week to send reinforcements and complete aid,” the statement said. “Should our call not be heard, we will lay down our weapons and pull out our fighters,” it added.

“Our popular revolution [against al-Assad] … is today under threat because of [ISIL], especially after it announced a caliphate,” said the statement. The factions that signed the statement are local rebel groups based in Raqa, Deir ez-Zor and parts of Aleppo province where fighting against ISIL has been most intense, and which are now under ISIL control.

The statement comes days after U.S. President Barack Obama called on Congress to approve $500 million to train and equip the moderate Syrian opposition.

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