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Analysis: A battle may be won, but war will rage on for Syria's Assad

News analysis
BEIRUT, Lebanon -- It is a picture nobody would have believed just a few short weeks ago.

A young soldier clambered to the top of a badly damaged clock tower in the battered Syrian city of Qusair and planted the regime flag for all the world to see. In case there was any doubt as to his political leanings, he glued President Bashar Assad's smiling face onto the banner. Subtlety – like all good things in times of war – is easily sacrificed.

There is no question that the fall of Qusair to Assad's forces is a major blow to rebels hoping to bring down the regime. This small western town straddles one of the major highways that link the capital Damascus to the Alawite strongholds on the Mediterranean coast. It is from these Alawite communities that Assad -- an Alawite (a sect of Shi'ite Islam) himself -- derives most of his power.

More crucially for the rebels, the loss of Qusair means the loss of a major supply line into central Syria. The opposition in that specific area relied heavily on the Sunni community in neighboring Lebanon for arms and medical aid, so without Qusair their access to Lebanon will be severely handicapped.

Should the Syrian regime manage to seal off the Lebanese border completely, then all the arms shipments and aid that accompanies them will dry up.

However, as significant as this battle is for Assad, the victory in Qusair does not necessarily mean the civil war is anywhere near its end.

The rebels still hold large swaths of the country – especially in the north, where they are better equipped than their fellow fighters in Qusair.

Their lines of support are also much stronger. Northern Syria runs along the Turkish border for hundreds of miles and the Turkish government has openly supported the rebels with arms, supplies and all the available logistical back-up they need. This level of backing, as well as increased arms supplies from Arab states like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, is not likely to evaporate.

Additionally, the European Union has lifted its self-imposed ban on supplying the rebels with arms. The events of the last few days may concentrate their minds further and speed up the supplies to the opposition.

This war has claimed over 80,000 lives in almost two years. The number of injured is many times more. No regime, however coercive, can quell such a rebellion. Qusair was a major morale boost for the Syrian regime but Assad and his army should not forget that it took weeks of heavy fighting and the intervention of thousands of Hezbollah fighters to dislodge the rebels from the town.

The victory was hardly a cakewalk and other battles will most likely be even harder to win.

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