Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (C) stands with Defence Minister, General Fahad Jassim al-Freij (front R) and Chief of Staff Ali Abdullah Ayyoub (front L)
The picture is deceptively normal. Posted on the Facebook page of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, it shows the first lady Asma, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, accompanying her daughter and three sons on their first day back at school.
Two of the boys wear camouflage shorts with khaki t-shirts and caps, in keeping with the spirit of a ruler under siege. Yet when she dropped off Hafez, the eldest, named after his strongman grandfather, only one other child had arrived in class because of rebel attacks in Damascus that morning, reports Reuters.
More than 18 months into the battle for Syria, an estimated 30,000 people are dead and the country is disintegrating.
The rebels are outgunned by the government but can still strike at will, and Assad has assumed personal command of his forces, still convinced he can prevail militarily.
U.N. mediation efforts headed by Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi are adrift and there is no indication Western pressure on Assad will translate into real military support for Syria's rebel forces. Russia and Iran continue to back Damascus.
Supporters of Assad say the government has steadied its nerve after a wave of defections and rebel attacks on strategic government targets since the summer.
A Facebook picture of Assad dressed in military uniform sums up his transformation since a bomb attack in July killed his inner circle security leadership, including his brother-in-law and defence minister.
Recent visitors say the 47-year-old president has taken over day-to-day leadership. They speak of a self-confident, combative president convinced he will ultimately win the conflict through military means.
"He is no longer a president who depends on his team and directs through his aides. This is a fundamental change in Assad's thinking," said a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician with close ties to Assad. "Now he is involved in directing the battle."
The endgame may have changed too. "Nobody is now talking about the control of the regime over all of Syria, they talk about the ability of the regime to continue."
Until recently, the Lebanese politician said, people asked daily who would defect next. But for some time now there had been no significant military defections.
"The fighting nerve is steady. The Iranians and the Russians may have helped them. Their ability to manage daily and control the situation has improved."
The government has decided to focus its effort on essential areas - the capital Damascus, the second largest city of Aleppo, and the main highways and roads.
Other close observers of the conflict say Assad is deluded if he believes he can prevail.
"The problem is the regime lives in its own world. It is clear the people are rejecting this idea - the regime's narrative - that it is a secular regime set upon by extremists, a battle between good and evil and Bashar will one day be vindicated. Bashar is not the victim. He is the cause of the violence," said a Western diplomat.
The conflict has spiralled into a civil war with almost daily massacres and sectarian killings which some observers say make Assad's fate almost irrelevant.