Bashir Abazed, 15, painted in huge letters the words ‘Ejak el door ya Doctor’ (It is your turn, Doctor) – a defiant message aimed at Syria’s despotic president Bashar Assad, who trained as an ophthalmologist in London.

As the other pupils kept lookout, another of the teenagers sprayed a simpler slogan: ‘Eskot Bashar al-Assad’ (Down with Bashar al-Assad).

Afterwards the excited friends ran off home. ‘We were laughing and joking all the time – it was fun,’ said Bashir. ‘But now we do not laugh.’…

Jittery security forces, led locally by Assad’s thuggish cousin Atif Najib, responded with such savagery against these teenagers that Deraa rose up in protest. After people were shot dead, the uprising spread across Syria.

Two years later 70,000 people have died, the savagery and sectarianism growing more horrific by the day; now there is even evidence the regime has unleashed chemical weapons. One million more have fled the carnage and shockwaves threaten the stability of the Middle East.