Syria says ready to fight rebels 'for years'

Syria said Tuesday it is ready to fight "for years" against rebels trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad, as the UN warned a generation of children risked being lost in the spiralling violence.

As the conflict which the UN says has killed more than 70,000 people approached its third year without a solution in sight, President Shimon Peres of neighbouring Israel urged Arab intervention to end the "massacre".

On the battlefield, rebels and troops fought fierce battles over the contested district of Baba Amr in third city Homs, and clashed on the road linking Damascus to the international airport.

Pro-government daily Al-Watan said the army was "in perfect condition" to defend Syria, but stressed citizens could also join in the battle, echoing a call made by the country's top religious authority.

"Soldiers and officers have been fighting for two years with a courage and bravery unparalleled in world history, in the fiercest of battles," the newspaper said.

"The Syrian army has at its disposal enough men and weapons to fight for years to defend Syria."

The pro-regime High Islamic Council had on Monday stressed that "the defence of a united Syria and the Syrian people is an obligation which all (citizens)... must fulfill."

Syria "is in a state of war", said Al-Watan, adding the council's appeal aimed to encourage citizens to get involved in defending the nation which is "facing a real invasion" from its neighbours Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Assad's regime, which has consistently blamed foreign powers for the violence in Syria, also sent letters to the UN urging "pressure on certain Arab and Western countries that supply aid to terrorism."

In Homs, which the insurgents have dubbed the "capital" of their two-year uprising, fighting focused on Khaldiyeh, with regime forces backed by tanks pounding the northern district, activists said.

The fighting comes one week into a massive army and pro-regime militia assault to reclaim Homs's Baba Amr district that has become a symbol of resistance before the army overran it a year ago.

"Troops launched rockets from the Baath university into parts of Baba Amr," said the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers for its reporting.

Battles also raged on the road linking Damascus to the airport, southeast of the capital, said the watchdog. Rebels have for months being trying to seize control of the road.

The UN children's agency, UNICEF, sent out an SOS to the world from Geneva warning a whole generation of Syrian children could disappear due to the violence.

"As the crisis in Syria enters its third, tragic year without any end in sight, the risk of a lost generation grows every hour, every day and every month," UNICEF spokesman Patrick McCormick told reporters.

"We cannot afford to lose any more time. We certainly cannot afford to lose another year. We risk creating a generation of children who have seen, or know, only fighting, and may well end up perpetuating that cycle of violence."

The scarring of an entire generation could have dire consequences beyond Syria's borders, in a fragile region prone to violence and civil strife, McCormick added.

UNICEF pointed out that nearly half of the four million in dire need of aid inside Syria are under the age of 18, and 536,000 of them are children below the age of five.

The Israeli president addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, saying the Arab League should be empowered to act in Syria with UN backing since Western intervention could be perceived as "foreign intervention."

"The Arab League can and should form a provisional government in Syria to stop the massacre, to prevent Syria from falling to pieces," Peres said.

Russia, meanwhile, delivered 10 tonnes of food aid and blanket to Syria on Tuesday, SANA news agency said, and evacuated 103 citizens from the war-torn country, according to news reports from Moscow.