By Alex Stevenson Follow @alex__stevenson
Security concerns are forcing Britain to withdraw its diplomatic staff from Syria, William Hague has said.
The foreign secretary used a written statement to parliament to announce the decision to close the UK's embassy in Damascus, which took place yesterday.
Britain had maintained formal diplomatic relations with the Bashar al-Assad regime to communicate with all parties and keep track of developments on the ground more effectively, he explained.
"We now judge that the deterioration of the security situation in Damascus puts our embassy staff and premises at risk, and have taken the decision to withdraw staff accordingly," Mr Hague said.
"Our ambassador and diplomatic staff left Syria on February 29th and will return to the UK shortly."
Less than ten people were working at the embassy before yesterday's decision.
The development came as the opposition Syrian National Council announced it was forming a 'military bureau' to coordinate the activities of rebels, the Associated Press news agency reported.
Yesterday Syrian forces launched a ground assault on the Bab Amr area of Homs, resulting in communications with the beleaguered rebels drying up almost completely.
China and Russia were joined by Cuba in voting against a strong resolution criticising Syria at the UN's human rights council in Geneva - but as their votes did not have a veto power the resolution was passed.
Mr Hague insisted the closure of the embassy did not mean Britain was reducing its commitment to use "active diplomacy" against Syria's government.
He added: "We will continue to work closely with other nations to coordinate diplomatic and economic pressure on the Syrian regime through the Friends of Syria group and the European Union, building on the new EU sanctions agreed on February 27th which will restrict further the regime's sources of revenue."