US official visited Syria seeking Americans' release: Media


WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – A White House official travelled to Damascus for secret meetings with the Syrian government seeking the release of at least two US citizens believed held by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday (Oct 18).

The newspaper, citing unnamed Trump administration officials, said Kash Patel, a deputy assistant to US President Donald Trump and the top White House counter-terrorism official, flew to Damascus earlier this year.

The White House and the State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The newspaper, citing Trump administration officials and others familiar with the negotiations, described Patel’s trip as the first time such a high-level US official has met in Syria with the isolated Assad government in more than a decade.

The United States suspended operations at the US embassy in Damascus in February 2012 after against Assad in 2011 began brutal crackdown on protesters calling for an end to his regime, leading to Syria’s bloody civil war.

The newspaper said US officials hope a deal with Assad would lead to freedom for Austin Tice, a freelance journalist and former Marine officer who disappeared while reporting in Syria in 2012, and Majd Kamalmaz, a Syrian-American therapist who disappeared after being stopped at a Syrian government checkpoint in 2017. It said at least four other Americans are believed to be held by the Syrian government, but little is known about those cases.

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