A bipartisan group of legislators gathered Wednesday in Washington to rally support for a bill aimed at halting U.S. support for Syrian rebels groups with links to jihadist militants attempting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, Peter Welch and Tom Garrett hosted a press conference discussing the "Stop Arming Terrorists Act," which Gabbard introduced to the House of Representatives in January. The bill called for an end to all U.S. financial and military assistance to foreign militant groups until they were screened by the intelligence officials and determined to be sufficiently distanced from Islamic fundamentalist groups such as Tahrir al-Sham, formerly known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and al-Qaeda's Nusra Front before that, and the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS. The two groups are labeled terrorist organizations by the State Department, but the U.S. has provided aid to other groups that have either joined or surrendered to such  jihadists.

"Together, we’re raising our voices and calling on our nation’s leaders to pass the Stop Arming Terrorists Act. For years, the U.S. government has been supporting militant groups working directly with and often under the command of terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda in their fight to overthrow the Syrian government. The fact that our resources are being used to strengthen the very terrorist groups we should be focused on defeating should alarm every Member of Congress and every American," Gabbard said in a statement.

The lawmakers were joined by Kurdi Foundation co-founder Tima Kurdi, whose sister-in-law and two nephews drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 while trying to escape to Greece from the six-year conflict in Syria that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions more. The washed-up body of Tima Kurdi's nephew, Alan Kurdi, was famously photographed by a Turkish journalist and the image went viral as a symbol of the brutality of the war. Tima Kurdi and Gabbard have accused the West of exacerbating the conflict by pursuing a "regime change" policy against Assad and allowing powerful jihadists to gain power.

 

“Regime change will not bring an end to the suffering of my people in Syria. A military solution is not the path to peace in Syria. We must find a political solution," Kurdi said in a statement.

Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, stirred controversy in the U.S. when she made a surprise visit to Syria in January. During the trip, she met with Assad and the two reportedly discussed ending U.S. support for Syrian opposition groups. Assad said last month he would welcome U.S. intervention only if directly coordinated with his military ally, Russia. President Donald Trump, who was critical of the decision from his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, to arm and train Syrian rebels, has said he would be open to working with Russia in fighting ISIS, but has yet to announce a comprehensive strategy.

The CIA reportedly halted rebel assistance last month after Islamist militants ambushed Western-backed rebels in northern Syria. Sources close to the opposition said they believed the move was temporary, but one U.S. official called leaks to jihadists groups "a constant problem."