Hundreds of children take part in the opening ceremony of their own World Cup in rebel-held northwestern Syria.

More than 300 children in rebel-held northwestern Syria kicked off their own World Cup on Saturday.

The excited children took part in the opening ceremony at the municipal stadium in Idlib, some wearing the jerseys of this year’s World Cup teams, AFP news agency reported.

Their 32 teams correspond to the countries that have qualified for the World Cup, which starts in Qatar on Sundayand their competition started with a game between the host nation and Ecuador, due to the official schedule.

“I represent Spain and I hope we win the cup,” said 12-year-old Bassel Sheikho, who works in a garage.

While children from displaced persons camps in Idlib and surrounding areas make up 25 of the teams, the other seven teams are children working in industrial zones in the region.

Girls line up and pose together
Girls line up and pose together on the pitch during the ‘Camps World Cup’ opening ceremony at the recently reopened Idlib Municipal Stadium in the rebel-held northwestern Syrian city [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP]

The war in Syria has killed about half a million people and displaced millions more since it began in 2011 with its brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.

The Idlib region is home to about three million people, about half of whom are internally displaced.

Children aged 10 to 14 have been training for months to participate in the “camps World Cup”, says Ibrahim Sarmini of the NGO Violet, which organized the tournament.

He said the event was designed to encourage children to participate in sports and to “draw international attention to displaced youth and those who work”, who are sometimes among those most exposed to deadly risks.

The last armed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime includes large parts of Idlib province and parts of neighboring Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.

Children wearing the uniforms of national football teams
Children wearing the uniforms of national football teams playing at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar line up during the ‘Camps World Cup’ opening ceremony [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP]

The armed group Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), led by al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, is dominant in the area, but other rebel groups are also active.

The “camps World Cup” matches will continue during the official tournament period and the final will be hosted at a camp in Idlib.

Sarmini noted that winter was set to set in in full force, and rains were expected to once again bring misery to the ramshackle, poverty-stricken camps.

“I hope that the whole world will pay attention to the displaced and support them so that they can return to their homes as soon as possible,” he said.

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