The Syrian opposition is welcoming what it calls an "extremely significant" visit by influential U.S. Senator John McCain, who made an unannounced trip to meet with rebels inside of Syria.
McCain's aides say he crossed from Turkey into Syria on Monday with rebel Free Syrian Army commander General Salam Idris.
Anas Abdah, a spokesman for the main opposition Syrian National Coalition, explained the importance of the senator's visit given his long-standing calls for greater assistance to the rebels.
"We think this is extremely significant because the senator has always supported the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people and the Syrian revolution since its beginning," said Abdah. "He has also fought very hard within his country, in the U.S., for his government to take an active role in supporting the Syrian revolution and also in arming the Free Syrian Army."
Rebel commanders who met with the senator urged the United States to provide them with weapons and ammunition, enforce a no-fly zone against President Bashar al-Assad's air force, and launch strikes against Pro-Assad Lebanese Hezbollah militants in Syria and Lebanon.
The U.S.-based Syrian Emergency Task Force, which supports the Syrian opposition, says it organized McCain's trip, and published several photos showing McCain inside Syria.
The group's executive director said in an interview with CNN that the senator and rebel commanders also discussed ways to "marginalize" extremists that have emerged in Syria, and that the Free Syrian Army assured McCain that any weapons it received would not fall into the wrong hands.
In an interview with U.S. news site The Daily Beast
, which first reported the visit, General Idris said McCain met with rebels on both sides of the Turkish-Syrian border. Idris said the rebels had come from all over Syria to meet the prominent U.S. lawmaker.
McCain is one of the leading voices in the U.S. Congress calling for increasing U.S. aid to the rebels. His brief visit to Syria makes him one of the most senior U.S. officials to enter the country since the anti-Assad rebellion evolved into a civil war after peaceful protests in March 2011.
The Obama administration has provided non-lethal equipment and humanitarian supplies to the rebels. But it has been reluctant to intervene further, fearing U.S.-supplied weapons could end up in the hands of anti-American Islamist rebels.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.