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AP PHOTOS: Lone family stays in Syrian village

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October 7, 2013 07:53 AM EST | AP

KAFER LATA, Syria — KAFER LATA, Syria (AP) — Grubby-faced children huddle on a small swing pushed indoors to protect them from bombardment in the northern Syrian village of Kafer Lata.

Their fathers leave the house each day, weapons dangling at their sides, walking through rocky, fertile red soil and olive groves to another smashed concrete home they use as cover, shooting at soldiers they see in the distance on the main road.

They are all that remains of this war-battered village.

Two weeks ago, Kafer Lata had some 10,000 inhabitants, mostly rural farmers who built concrete homes out of the soil with carefully stashed money, turning a once-tiny hamlet into a small backwater town. Now, it's one of the many ghost villages dotting the Syrian countryside, abandoned by residents and ravaged as soldiers and rebels spread through the area in roving battles.

Kafer Lata's residents now form part of the flood of more than 5 million citizens displaced within Syria, and more than 2 million who have become refugees abroad.

But the sprawling, three-generation family of Mohammed Kale refuses to leave their home; a boxy, multi-story concrete apartment that holds the entire family. The men want to stay back and fight. Their elder patriarch, 65-year-old Mohammed Kale, fears they will suffer in moving, penniless, from their home. In this traditional family, the women do not offer their names, nor their opinions to strangers.

The family lives amid stubborn domesticity and war: A living room shelf holds a hand grenade and a vase of yellow plastic flowers, baby milk powder and medicine pills. Returning home from battle, the men pile brick upon brick to mend a wall targeted during shelling.

The youngest baby was born during shelling. "We had to run to the fields to save ourselves," said her father, Ahmed Kale. One of the little girls clutches a bright yellow toy. A little blonde boy sports a child's fake army khaki uniform and fiddles with a plastic assault rifle, sitting a patch of sunlight, playing.

A young girl scrubs the flat concrete rooftop with a stiff broom and a bucket of water. It could be shelled at any minute, but cleanliness, above all else, is the most potent sign of Syria's most impoverished clinging to dignity and a sense of home. Other women hang washing out to dry. They stretch meals with vegetable stews over rice, and boil water for coffee over a fire.

"If I am to move from the village it will be to go to my grave," the elderly patriarch, Mohammed Kale said, leaning on his cane.


Here's a gallery of images from Kafer Lata by Associated Press photographer Narciso Contreras.

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