Syrian regime forces on Thursday seized full control of the Baba Amr district of powder-keg Homs after rebels pulled out “tactically” in the face of relentless shelling and a deadly ground assault.

With the rebel fighters in retreat, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said in Paris that its newly-created “military bureau” would from now on coordinate the armed resistance against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The all-out assault on Homs's defiant neighbourhood came as international envoy Kofi Annan said he hoped to go to Damascus with a clear message that the “violence must stop”, and the U.N. Human Rights Council called on Damascus to allow relief supplies in to besieged protest cities.

Gulf states, which have been at the forefront of international calls to supply arms to the rebels, said they will hold talks next week with key Damascus ally Moscow, which has so far blocked Arab and Western efforts to take action through the U.N. Security Council.

Britain announced that it was following the United States in closing its embassy and pulling out its remaining diplomats in response to the “deterioration of the security situation in Damascus”.

Rebel fighters said on Thursday they had pulled out from Baba Amr after nearly two days of an all-out assault by the dreaded Fourth Armoured Division, led by a younger brother of President Bashar al-Assad, Maher.

Rebels “have pulled out tactically in order to protect the remaining civilians”, said Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad, the leader of the free Syrian Army, which is made up mostly of deserters.

A Syrian security official said in Damascus that the army was in total command of the rebel bastion on the 27th day of bombardment targeting the defiant neighbourhood.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 21 people were killed in Homs on Thursday, including 17 civilians caught up in the battle for control of Baba Amr. The opposition SNC said the military bureau, announced on Wednesday, would coordinate the flow of weapons to the rebels.

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