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Domesticity amid war: Children continue with chores as bullets fly overhead in Syrian ghost town

A girl reacts to the buzz of stray bullets overhead as she cleans the roof of her family house in Kfar Lata, a town that comes under heavy bombardment due to the fighting between opposition fighters and government forces in Syria's Idlib province. AP
Opposition fighters mount guard at the front line on the outskirts of Kfar Lata. AP
Mohammed Kale's grandchildren play on a swing inside the house. AP

Grubby-faced children huddle around a small swing that was brought indoors so they could play — at least a tiny bit sheltered by the walls of their home from the relentless bombardment in the northern Syrian town of Kfar Lata.

Their fathers leave the house each day, weapons dangling at their sides, to walk over the rocky, fertile red soil and through olive groves to the ruins of a smashed concrete house they use as cover. From there, they shoot at soldiers they see in the distance on the main road.

A handful of families is all that remains of this war-battered town.

Two weeks ago, Kfar Lata had some 10,000 inhabitants, mostly farmers who had built concrete homes on its rich soil with carefully stashed money, bringing prosperity to a once-tiny hamlet.

Now, it's one of the many ghost towns that dot the Syrian countryside, abandoned by residents and ravaged as soldiers and rebels spread through the area in roving battles.

Kfar Lata sits at the top of a mountain in the countryside of Idlib province. AP
A woman, center, sees off her husband Ahmed, second left, as he leaves for the front line. AP
Mohammed Kale, right, the family patriarch, sits with his grandchildren as they eat lunch. AP

Many of Kfar Lata's residents now form part of the flood of more than 4.5 million people 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 structure that holds the entire family.

The men say they want to stay and fight. Their elder patriarch, 65-year-old Mohammed Kale, fears they will suffer if they leave their home, with no money and no prospects.

The family lives surrounded by evidence of stubborn domesticity and war: a living room shelf displays a hand grenade and a vase of yellow plastic flowers, baby milk powder and medicine pills.

A hand grenade sits among flowers at the entrance to the family home. AP
The wife of Mohammed Kale stands with her granddaughter and grandson in the yard of their house. AP
Sons of Mohammed Kale rebuild a wall damaged by a mortar shell at their family home. AP

Returning home from battle, the men pile brick upon brick to mend a wall targeted during the shelling of the town.

The family's youngest baby was born during shelling. "We had to run to the fields to save ourselves," said her father, Ahmed Kale.

One of the family's little girls clutches a bright yellow toy. A little blonde boy sports a child's khaki army uniform costume and fiddles with a plastic rifle, playing in a patch of sunlight.

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 way many of Syria's most impoverished cling to dignity and a sense of home.

Other women hang freshly done laundry out to dry. They make vegetable stew with rice, and stretch out their meager meals over as many days as they can, and boil water for coffee over a fire.

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

-- The Associated Press

EDITOR'S NOTE: Images taken on Oct. 3, 2013 and made available to NBC News today.

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