US congresswoman Gabbard makes secret Syria trip

Washington: A US congresswoman made a rare secret visit to Syria as part of her effort toward ending the years-long conflict in the Middle Eastern nation, her office said Wednesday.

House Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, made a fact-finding mission to the capital Damascus despite continued fighting in the war-torn country in contravention of a frail ceasefire.

“As an individual committed to doing all she can to promote and work for peace, she felt it was important to meet with a number of individuals and groups including religious leaders, humanitarian workers, refugees and government and community leaders,” said Gabbard spokeswoman Emily Latimer.

The exact dates of the trip were not provided for security reasons, but her office said she was currently in the Middle East.

The congresswoman from Hawaii met with US President-elect Donald Trump in November two weeks after his election victory to discuss Syria policy, raising speculation that the incoming commander in chief might consider her for a position at the Pentagon or State Department.

Gabbard said at the time that she shared with Trump “my grave concerns that escalating the war in Syria by implementing a so-called no fly/safe zone would be disastrous for the Syrian people, our country and the world.”

Gabbard, who often clashes with her own party on issues related to Syria, has long opposed a US policy of regime change there, arguing that the country would descend further into chaos should President Bashar al-Assad be ousted.

Latimer declined to say whether Gabbard met with Assad on her trip, which also included a stop in Lebanon.

On January 13, Gabbard introduced the Stop Arming Terrorists Act, which bars US taxpayer dollars from supporting organizations allied with or backing “terrorist groups like ISIS (an acronym for the Islamic State) and Al-Qaeda in their war to overthrow the Syrian government.”

The measure would prevent the US government from providing funds or weapons to groups seeking to overthrow the Assad regime, including the Levant Front and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

“Our limited resources should go toward rebuilding our communities here at home, not fueling more counterproductive regime-change wars abroad,” she said on the House floor as she urged her colleagues to “stop this madness.”