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Arab League backs joint military taskforce

Despite reservations of some members, concluding statement confirms body's support for principle of joint military taskforce
Representatives of Arab League member states gather to discuss setting up joint military taskforce (AFP)

Arab leaders are backing calls for the formation of a joint Arab security taskforce at the conclusion of a high-level summit in Egypt on Sunday, according to the closing statement from summit head Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The force would be tasked with intervening in Arab states at their request to protect them against “danger,” a source told Anadolu Agency, without specifying what kind of threats could lead to the taskforce’s deployment.

Egypt, which hosted the summit in its southern resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh, had strongly supported the proposal for a joint taskforce, which would be voluntary.

President Sisi told the 26th Arab League summit, this year held under the slogan “70 years of joint Arab work,” that setting up the military taskforce is “essential in facing the current threats”.

He warned that the region is facing “unprecedented” existential threats to its “identity and Arab nature,” Egypt’s state-owned al-Ahram newspaper reported.

The Arab League was established in 1945 and now has 22 member states.

The 2015 summit included heads of 14 member states, including the Gulf States, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Algeria, Palestine and Somalia.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, who arrived back in the capital Riyadh accompanied by Yemen’s embattled President Mansour Hadi on Sunday, told the summit that the “bloodshed” affecting a number of Arab countries is “the inevitable result of an alliance between terrorism and sectarianism”.

“[This] is led by regional powers whose blatant interventions in the Arab region have undermined security and stability,” explaining that “foreign intervention” in Yemen had enabled Houthi rebels to “overtake the legitimate authority,” the official Saudi news agency quoted him as saying.

Saudi Arabia last week led a bombing campaign aimed at weakening the Houthi militias who have overrun many of Yemen’s state institutions, and who took control of the capital Sanaa last September.

Saudi Arabia and other regional powers accuse Iran of supporting and funding the Houthis – Iran has publicly supported the group and strongly condemned the Saudi-led bombing campaign, known as “Decisive Storm”.

The summit’s closing statement is expected to express support for the operation, to which a number of member states including Morocco and Sudan have already pledged military support.

Many other Arab League states have previously issued statements supporting the Saudi-led intervention – however, founding member Iraq has expressed reservations, calling for “serious discussion” on a way forward in Yemen.

Iraqi President Fuad Masoum repeated his calls for caution at the Arab League summit on Saturday, calling on all sides to join the negotiating table and avert a possible “civil war” in the impoverished Gulf State.

“The recent military developments…further complicate the conflicts between all parties, which will lead to more threats in the region,” Masoum told the delegates.

“Foreign interventions will not help the Yemeni people,” he added.

Representatives of other member states also expressed reservations about the details of any proposal to create a joint military taskforce, but confirmed their support for the plan in theory.

Algeria’s Foreign Minister, Ramtane Lamamra, confirmed that he would not oppose the suggestion, but said the proposal required “clear strategic analysis and strong planning” in order to succeed, he told the press on the sidelines of the conference.

Salaheddine Mezouar, Morocco’s Foreign Minister, said on Saturday that all members were agreed on the proposal “in principle,” but stated that negotiations were necessary to hammer out the specifics of the taskforce.