As noose tightens on Assad, rebels ask: What comes next?

The security establishment and presidential palace, so far unbending pillars of state control, are now well within reach, rebel fighters on the outskirts of Damascus say. But to hold on to the city once it falls, they believe, means turning their minds to what comes next.

“This time, unlike July [the last co-ordinated assault on Damascus], the regime are not fighting like they were,” a rebel leader from Darrya, near the capital, said. “They are shelling us from the mountain and bombing us with jets. But they seem cautious. We are dictating terms.”

The southern outskirts of the city are now firmly guerrilla territory. Rebel groups are openly trying to disrupt flights to the nearby international airport. “It is a strategic target and we need to control it,” the rebel leader said. “We must use big ideas these days.”

Even on the sidelines of the war, positions are being shifted from trying to manage the consequences of the fighting to coping with what could be its shambolic aftermath.