John McCain in Surprise Visit to Meet Syrian Rebels

Mike O'Brien

Sen. John McCain slipped into Syria on Monday in a surprise trip to meet the leaders of rebel forces.

The Arizona Republican, a leading advocate of arming the Syrian opposition, did not comment on his dramatic entry from Turkey into rebel-held territory.

His spokeswoman Rachel Dean confirmed the trip but would not comment.

He was accompanied across the border by Gen. Salim Idriss, who heads the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, a loose confederation of anti-government groups.

Mr. McCain also met also met with 18 commanders from rebel battalions across Syria, who used the opportunity to make their case for increased U.S. support.

They reportedly requested heavy weapons, a no-fly zone and airstrikes on Syrian government and Hezbollah forces.

Such unannounced trips to the world’s troubled spots by U.S. politicians is rare. But it is sure to apply even more diplomatic pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad.

On Monday a divided European Union met in Brussels and agreed to relax a ban on weapons shipments to anti-Assad forces.

In Paris, meanwhile, top U.S. and Russian diplomats met in a bid to firm up plans for a peace conference that both nations view as the only hope for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis.

More than 70,000 people have died in two years of conflict in Syria.

President Barack Obama has demanded that Assad leave power, while Russia has stood by Syria, its closest ally in the Arab world.

Mr. McCain, who has been fiercely critical of President Obama’s foreign policies, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which last week voted to provide weapons to rebels in Syria, as well as military training to vetted rebel groups and sanctions against anyone who sells oil or transfers arms to the