- Special Pages
Smoke rises from one of the buildings in the city of Homs, yesterday.
DAMASCUS/london: Syria said yesterday 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.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country might be prepared to bypass a European Union arms embargo on Syria, allowing the supply of weapons to rebels.
“I hope that we can persuade our European partners, if and when a further change becomes necessary, they will agree with us,” he told a parliamentary committee.
“But if we can’t, then it’s not out of the question we might have to do things in our own way. It’s possible.”
Government forces killed at least 30 army deserters in an ambush on the Damascus Airport road yesterday as opposition fighters were guiding them on foot to a rebel-held district, opposition sources said.
Many thousands of the mostly Sunni Muslim army rank and file have deserted since the uprising against President Bashar Al Assad erupted two years ago. Assad and most of the army’s senior ranks and elite forces belong to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia. “They were crossing the highway to Eastern Ghouta when they were ambushed,” a rebel commander in the region said on condition of anonymity. He was referring to a part of the eastern outskirts of Damascus that is held by the opposition.
“They ambushed them at 2am. The regime had intelligence that they were coming,” another opposition source said, adding that another seven of the group of 40 had been wounded.
An opposition military source said rebels had overrun a missile squadron at the weekend manned mostly by Alawites in the town of Khan Al Sheih near Damascus, and killed at least 30 of its troops who had escaped to a nearby farm.
“The rebels captured air-to-surface missiles, which they cannot operate, and 11 anti-aircraft guns, which they can,” the source said.
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.
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.