BEIRUT

Lebanon News

McCain declares support for FSA, requests safe zone for rebels

U.S. Senator John McCain speaks during a news conference in Tripoli February 22, 2012. (REUTERS/Anis Mili)

BEIRUT: U.S. Senator John McCain called Thursday for establishing a safe zone for Free Syrian Army rebels after meeting with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea at the latter’s residence in Maarab in Kesrouan, according to the National News Agency.

Heading a delegation which included U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly, McCain said after the meeting, “We discussed the situation in Syria and we voiced our belief that the longer the struggle lasts the more influential extremists such as Al-Qaeda will become in Syria.”

“I’ve always stressed the need to arm the Free Syrian Army, who need weapons, since Russia is supplying [Syrian President Bashar] Assad with weapons. We need to secure a safe zone for the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian opposition to organize their operations, train and treat the wounded,” he added. Russia has said it will continue to provide helicopters to the Syrian government, only if they stem from contracts signed before the uprising began last March.

It is unclear where McCain believes this safe zone should be established.

Turkey is currently hosting senior FSA members and several hundred army defectors in camps in the southern Hatay region of the country.

Republican McCain also said that the U.S. administration should be doing more to “help in organizing a better resistance to end the ongoing massacres,” adding that, “It’s now known that I strongly support providing arms and necessary assistance to those fighting for freedom in Syria.”

The senator also praised Lebanon for receiving Syrian refugees and providing them with assistance. Around 29,000 Syrian refugees are currently receiving aid from the U.N., the Government’s Higher Relief Committee and other organizations, but activists believe the real total is far higher.

In response to a question from El-Nashra website on fears about the length of the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, compared to Palestinian refugees, McCain said the situations were completely different.

“If we topple Assad we believe that the refugees will return home,” he said, whereas “there is no agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on a two-state solution, which is what the U.S. supports.”

McCain and Geagea also discussed the Lebanese political situation. “Lebanon is facing several difficulties, most recently on the legislative level,” he said.

MPs from Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc boycotted a Parliament session Tuesday in protest against a law affecting Electricite du Liban’s contract workers.

McCain added, “We want to see all groups work together again, but given the situation in the U.S., it’s difficult to criticize Lebanese domestic affairs.” He also stressed the need to boost the economy and development in Lebanon.

Also Wednesday, McCain met with the Lebanese Army commander, Brig. Gen. Jean Kahwagi at his office in Yarze. Talks centered on cooperation between the Lebanese and American armies, as well as on measures to boost the capacities of the Lebanese Army, the NNA said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 06, 2012, on page 3.

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