From his base in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad can contemplate a broad sweep of Syria clawed back from rebels who once threatened to drive him out. The capital which they targeted is now plastered with posters inviting Syrians to reelect him president.

Powerful foreign allies have helped Assad hold or retake a chain of cities which form the north-south backbone of the country, keep his grip on the Mediterranean coast to the west and restore control over the Lebanese border.

The culmination of that slow, grinding military turnaround came last week with the final withdrawal of rebel fighters from Homs city, a month before the presidential election in which Assad faces no serious challenge.

His foes dismiss the June 3 vote as a farce, saying the huge areas still beyond his command make a credible vote impossible, but the fact that authorities can consider a notionally countrywide ballot reveals their growing confidence.