- Associated Press - Sunday, February 12, 2012

CAIRO — The Arab League called Sunday for the U.N. Security Council to create a joint peacekeeping force for Syria, the latest effort by the regional group to end the 11-month-old crisis that has killed more than 5,000 people.

The new effort was spelled out in a resolution adopted by league foreign ministers meeting in Cairo. Syria immediately rejected the idea.

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal conveyed the league’s deep frustration with Syria by telling delegates at the start of the meeting that it was no longer appropriate for the 22-member group to stand by and watch the bloodshed in Syria.

“Until when will we remain spectators?” he said. “It is a disgrace for us as Muslims and Arabs to accept” the bloodshed in Syria, he said.

Syria’s state news agency said the regime rejected the Arab League decisions, which were made without a Syrian representative present.

Syrian Ambassador to the Arab League and to Egypt, Ahmed Youssef, was quoted as saying that Qatar and Saudi Arabia were “living in a state of hysteria after their last failure at the U.N. Security Council to call for outside interference in Syria’s affairs and to impose sanctions on the Syrian people.”

The Arab League has been at the forefront of regional efforts to end 11 months of bloodshed in Syria.

The group put forward a plan that President Bashar Assad agreed to in December, then sent in monitors to check whether the Syrian regime was complying. The league withdrew its observers last month, after Mr. Assad’s regime flouted the terms of the agreement and the killing continued.

“The time has come for a decisive action to stop the bloodshed suffered by the Syrian people since the start of last year,” Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby told the Arab foreign ministers.

“We must move quickly in all directions to end or break the ongoing cycle of violence in Syria.”

The league called for the U.N. Security Council to adopt its own resolution that provides for an immediate cease-fire in Syria, the protection of civilians and a humanitarian effort for victims of the violence. It demanded that the regime lift its siege on neighborhoods and villages and pull troops and heavy weapons back to their barracks.

It urged Syrian opposition groups to unite ahead of a Feb. 24 meeting in Tunisia of the Friends of Syria group, which includes the United States, its European allies and Arab nations working to end the uprising against Mr. Assad’s authoritarian rule.

The creation of the group came after Russia and China last weekend vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would have pressured Mr. Assad to step down.

That resolution also would have demanded that he halt the crackdown on dissent and implement the Arab League peace plan that calls for him to hand over power to his vice president and allow creation of a unity government to clear the way for elections.

Mr. Elaraby said at the Cairo meeting that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov wrote him a letter Saturday that conveyed what he called a partial change in Moscow’s stand on the Syrian crisis. He quoted Mr. Lavrov as saying Russia would agree to a joint U.N.-Arab League peacekeeping force.

The league also said it wants to provide the opposition groups with political and material support. It called for halting all diplomatic contacts with Syria and for referring officials deemed responsible for crimes against the Syrian people to international criminal tribunals.