GAZIANTEP, TURKEY // Assad regime forces and Hizbollah fighters celebrated their recapture of what remained of Qusayr yesterday.
After an 18-day battle that reduced much of the strategic town to rubble and debris, Syrian rebels vowed to fight on "until liberation".
Video footage on pro-regime television showed Syrian troops and armoured vehicles in a devastated cityscape of smashed buildings and torn up streets. A small flag showing Mr Al Assad's face had been placed on top of a blasted concrete plinth.
As international aid organisations waited to be given access to the combat zone, having been refused permission by the Syrian authorities to evacuate the wounded and civilians earlier in the week, Syria's fractured opposition struck a defiant tone.
"The Free Syrian Army commits to carrying on the fight for freedom and justice, along with those who have been steadfast in confronting oppression and tyranny and who have defended the people of their nation with bravery," the opposition Syrian National Coalition said.
It said the FSA had fought "heroic battles" to defend civilians and demanded access for humanitarian agencies.
Qusayr became a focal point for the conflict as Bashar Al Assad's forces and foreign backers including Hizbollah and Iran fought mainly Sunni rebel groups supported to much less effect by some Arabian Gulf states and the West.
Efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict in which more than 94,000 people have died also seemed to be slipping yesterday.
UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said the Geneva 2 negotiations - already a forlorn looking prospect - would not take this month because neither side was ready to sit down for talks, and with no agreement about who should participate.
Moscow is pushing for Iran, a key participant in the Syria crisis, to take part, while Syria's opposition has refused to enter talks until the Lebanese Shiite group Hizbollah pulls out the combat forces it has deployed in Syria, with such decisive effect in Qusayr.
Reports of skirmishes between pro-regime forces and rebels to the north of the town yesterday evening gave some indication that the fighting in the border area is far from over.
A Syrian analyst with connections to both the regime and the rebels said Qusayr was a single battle in a "long, long war" and warned against reading too much into the outcome.
"It was essential for the regime to have won in Qusayr after all the resources it put into the fight but we have seen it take neighbourhoods and towns in the past, at great cost, and it has done nothing to stop the revolt, if anything it just pours more fuel on the fire," he said.
Nonetheless, Qusayr stood as a stark example of what the Syrian uprising has turned into, he said - a regional and international war with frightening sectarian dimensions - and carried clear lessons for the rebels and their supporters.
"We very openly saw Iran and Hizbollah, and Russia, throw in fighters and weapons to give a victory to president Al Assad in Qusayr, now the rebels are waiting to see what their allies will do to answer that," he said.
"It is something of a crunch moment for the powers supporting the rebels - will they just keep talking and giving a few arms here and there, or will they now take real action and give the opposition the money and weapons they need to even up the balance?
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey - Sunni powers - have been major supporter of the rebels, providing them with arms and cash, although not in sufficient volumes to break a military deadlock on the ground.
The US and Europe have imposed economic sanctions on the Syrian regime and provided limited supplies of aid, communications equipment and - although not officially - weapons.
An EU arms embargo has now lapsed, however, opening the door for Britain and France to arm rebels if they choose to.
In contrast, Syria's supporters, Iran, Hizbollah and other Shiite militant groups, are viewing the war as an existential struggle they must win at any price. Hizbollah, involved in fighting since at least last year has, in Qusayr, dramatically increased its presence inside Syria, sending in thousands of guerrillas to aid regime forces.
Iran has, according to some reports, pumped billings of dollars in financial aid to prop up Mr Al Assad's regime, with military and security advisers assisting his armed forces.
Unconfirmed reports have said Hizbollah fighters are now massing near Aleppo, in preparation for an assault on the city by government forces. Much of Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital, has been in rebel hands for a year, defying repeated attempts by regime forces to retake it.
The Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said Tehran "congratulates the victory of the Syrian army and people over the 'takfiri' terrorists".
The Syrian regime - dominated by Alawites, an obscure Shiite sect - together with Iran and Hizbollah have said the war is not the violent suppression of a popular uprising demanding political reforms, but a nefarious foreign plot orchestrated by arch enemies Israel and the US, in conjunction with Sunni extremists or takfiris - an Arabic word meaning Muslims who denounce other Muslims as non-believers.
Sana, Syria's state run news agency, which made no mention of Hizbollah's combat role in the fight for Qusayr, quoted an unnamed member of the army general command as saying the battle was a setback for those enemies.
"The victory that was achieved at the hands of our brave soldiers sends a clear message to all those who are involved in the aggression against Syria, on top being the Zionist enemy and its agents in the region and tools on the ground," it said,
Naim Qassim, Hezbollah's deputy secretary general, said the outcome had proved those trying to topple Mr Al Assad were "delusional".
"The victory in Qusayr is a big blow to the American-Israeli-takfiri project and a bright moment for the resistance project in Syria," he said.