AZAZ, Syria: Three members of the US Congress made a rare visit on Sunday to opposition-held territory in northern Syria controlled by pro-Turkish factions, an AFP journalist at the scene said.
The bipartisan delegation comprising Joe Wilson, Victoria Spartz and Dean Phillips entered Syria from Turkiye through the Bab Al-Salama border crossing, where they were welcomed by a banner reading “Welcome to Free Syria” and revolutionary flags.
The delegation visited a hospital in the city of Azaz in Aleppo province and met orphans of the Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 500,000 people since it erupted in 2011.
The visit’s “purpose is to see the reality of the liberated areas,” said Yasser El-Hajji, spokesperson for the Turkiye-backed interim government.
However, the delegation’s visit had to be curtailed for security reasons, a member of their escort said.
The Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham or HTS group controls much of Syria’s last pocket of armed opposition, which includes a significant part of Idlib province as well as bordering terri- tories of Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia provinces.
Other opposition factions, supported by Turkiye to varying degrees, also control parts of northern Syria.
“To avoid sparking controversy in the United States, they ultimately did not proceed toward Jindayris in the territories controlled by HTS,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
HTS, which is led by the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda, is classified as a terrorist group by Washington.
“The members of Congress wanted to assess the work of the interim government to study the possibility of delivering humanitarian aid via Bab Al-Salama instead of Bab El-Hawa,” which is controlled by HTS, added the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources on the ground in Syria for its reports.
Under a 2014 agreement, most international aid including food, water and medicine entered from Turkiye via the Bab Al-Hawa crossing without the authorization of Damascus.
The UN last month failed to reach consensus on extending the mechanism through the Security Council, but subsequently announced that aid deliveries would resume through Bab Al-Hawa.