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Syria says ready to fight rebels 'for years'

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Syria warned Tuesday it is ready to fight "for years" against rebels, as world powers worked on a new initiative to find regime officials suitable for peace talks with the opposition.

The UN children's agency, UNICEF, said meanwhile that an entire generation of children risked being lost in the spiralling conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the insurgents.

As the bloodletting approached a third year without a solution in sight, France said it was working with Russia and the United States to draw up a list of regime officials with whom the opposition can negotiate.

"We worked together on an idea... of a list of Syrian officials who would be acceptable to Syria's opposition National Coalition," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the foreign affairs committee of the National Assembly.

Opposition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib has offered to talk to regime representatives without "blood on their hands", while his National Coalition has ruled out any solution that includes Assad and his top military command.

Fabius said France had discussed Khatib's "very brazen" offer "with the Russians and the Americans" and that there had been "exchanges to seek a political solution".

In Strasbourg, meanwhile, Israeli President Shimon Peres told the European Parliament the Arab League should be empowered to act in Syria with UN backing since Western intervention could be perceived as "intervention".

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 newspaper Al-Watan said the army was "in perfect condition" and that it "has at its disposal enough men and weapons to fight for years to defend Syria".

Syria "is in a state of war" and "facing a real invasion," it said, stressing citizens could also join in the battle, echoing a call made by the country's top religious authority, the High Islamic Council.

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.

In Geneva, the UN children's agency sent out an SOS warning a whole generation of Syrian children could disappear.

"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."

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 under five.

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.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130312/syria-says-ready-fight-rebels-years-1