On the first anniversary of the Syrian uprising, which has so far claimed the lives of 8,000 people, the Guardian has obtained a raft of emails from private accounts belonging to President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma.
As Assad refused to stand down and the death toll grew from his brutal repression of protesters, the emails show the first family continuing to live in luxury. Emails show Asma Assad spending thousands of dollars ordering expensive goods on the internet -- including £10,000 on tables, chandeliers, and candlesticks from Paris -- while Assad uses a third party with a US email address to sidestep US sanctions against him and buy music and apps from Apple's iTunes.
The emails, accessed by anti-regime activists after someone believed to be in the president's inner circle passed them the usernames and passwords, give an insight into Assad's mindset and his coterie of advisers.
He appears to remain light-hearted, despite the bloodshed. If there was any doubt that promises of reform were not genuinely meant, it can be put to rest. In one email, he describes these reforms as "rubbish laws of parties, elections, media". Later, he emails an aide with a YouTube clip re-enacting the siege of Homs using toys and biscuits.
There is also reference to advice from Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Both countries are suspected by international bodies of providing on the ground assistance to the regime, but have insisted their support is only moral.
Elsewhere, Asma's regular correspondence with Mayassa al-Thani, the Qatar emir's daughter, chills after Thani suggests that Assad should step down and offers the couple exile in Doha.
However, although the couple appear to be living in denial, continuing their comfortable lifestyle, there are points where the strain shows. On 28 December, Asma Assad is said to have emailed her husband to say: "If we are strong together, we will overcome this together ... I love you."
The Guardian has said that it cannot verify the emails beyond all doubt, but their checks indicate that they are not forgeries. You can read a selection of the emails here.