Clinton: Ousting Assad top priority in Syria
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Clinton: Ousting Assad top priority in Syria

Democratic presidential frontrunner says the US should pursue diplomatic solution to conflict that has killed over 250,000

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a town hall event at Manchester Community College October 5, 2015, in Manchester, New Hampshire. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images/AFP)
Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a town hall event at Manchester Community College October 5, 2015, in Manchester, New Hampshire. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images/AFP)

Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton said at a Monday campaign event that ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was the top priority in the war-torn nation.

According to Reuters, Clinton said the US should seek a diplomatic solution to the years-long crisis in Syria, where a 4½-year civil war has killed more than 250,000 people and left the country a breeding ground for terror groups, including the Islamic State.

In contrast with US President Barack Obama, Clinton has previously advocated for more American involvement in arming the moderate Syrian rebels to fight both Assad and IS fighters.

Last week, Clinton said she would push for a no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors in Syria to address the crisis.

“I personally would be advocating now for a no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors to try to stop the carnage on the ground and from the air,” Clinton said in an interview with WHDH-TV Boston.

Declaring a no-fly zone over Syria would in effect put the US directly at war with the Syrian government, since it likely would require bombing Syrian air defenses to keep the skies safe for the American combat aircraft enforcing the zone.

Supporters of a no-fly zone in Syria have said it would help stem the flow of refugees and neutralize Assad’s warplanes and helicopters.

Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks to the BBC in an interview aired February 10, 2015. (screen capture: BBC)
Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks to the BBC in an interview aired February 10, 2015. (screen capture: BBC)

Obama however, remains unconvinced. Even as he has called for Assad’s ouster, the president has not backed any direct US military action against the government.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest last week reiterated that the administration wasn’t considering a no-fly zone. “It raises a whole set of logistical questions about how exactly what would be enforced, what sort of resources would be used to actually protect that area,” he told reporters.

Clinton was among the more hawkish members of Obama’s national security team during his first term, and has long touted her early support for arming moderate Syrian rebels to fight the Assad government. Obama reluctantly backed a proposal to equip opposition forces last year, but has used the program’s failure to suggest his initial wariness was right all along.

Clinton’s remarks come days after Russia launched its first airstrikes in Syria against what it said were Islamic State targets. However, US officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, and Syrian opposition leaders have said the strikes hit areas not controlled by the Islamic State, but positions held by moderate rebels opposed to Assad.

AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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