UK & World News
Syria Conflict: Children Scarred By Fighting
Syria's civil war has forced more than 250,000 people to flee their country, and according to the United Nations half of those who have registered in refugee camps are children.
In the Islahiye camp in Turkey, the communal toilets are plastered with Arabic graffiti declaring them "the house of Assad". The children in the camp gleefully point it out to visitors - and explain the insult to the Syrian dictator.
There are 4,500 children in Islahiye, dependent on food and water provided by the Turkish authorities, and living in a city of tents erected behind the camp's barbed wire perimeter.
All of them have left their homes because of violence, or the threat of it, and now face an indefinite wait as the fighting drags on. Their parents are prohibited from working; refugees can only leave the camp for a few hours in the morning, and again in the afternoon.
During a recent visit to the camp's makeshift medical clinic, a group of children performed an impromptu concert of popular anti-Assad songs. Women standing nearby cheered them on enthusiastically.
"Why did this child have to die? Please army, go away," ran the lyrics of one plaintive tune. "We're going to take Bashar, he killed children and burned down houses."
"We pray to God to take the head of Bashar," implored another song. "A Koran in one hand and a sword in the other, we have to bide our time, we have to struggle."
Syria's bloody civil war has already claimed nearly 30,000 lives, according to opposition groups. It has also forced many of the country's children to grow up too quickly.
One of them is Essam Shadikli, a 10-year-old from Aleppo. He and his brothers - 11-year-old Mohammed, and three-year-old Abdulrahman - share a tent in Islahiye. They arrived a month ago, after their parents were killed in an ambush that the boys say was carried out by regime soldiers.
"We were going to my uncle's house in a minibus when the soldiers started shooting at us, and then throwing grenades," said Essam. "I saw one man's jaw shot off, and another man's hands blown away by a grenade."
The boys - who are now being cared for by friends and relatives - described how their mother was killed immediately by a shot to the head, as Abdulrahman sat in her lap. Their father was taken to a hospital, where he died the next day.
The newly orphaned boys claim they were then instructed to lie about who had killed their parents.
"The government soldiers told us we had to say that it was terrorists who attacked us, and not them," said Essam.
He and Mohammad both have deep scars caused by shrapnel wounds. But Abdulrahman - who cries easily when not being held by a relative or neighbour - suffered the worst injuries. His leg is still in a cast after the bone was shattered in the attack.
"We play with him and he forgets what happened," said Essam. "He knows that our parents are in heaven."
Asked what caused the fighting in Syria, Essam thought for a few seconds and then said he didn't know. "But we want revenge against Bashar for our mother and father."