As the conflict in Yemen continues to escalate, and Syria, Libya, and Iraq plunge steadily deeper in chaos, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi announced Sunday that the Arab League has agreed to create a "joint Arab military force" to battle militant groups and insurgencies across the Middle East.
Sisi made the announcement during the Arab League summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, a resort town on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Egyptian security officials told the Associated Press the force could consist of 40,000 troops with backing from jet fighters and warships.
The Arab League, an often-fractious regional organization whose 22 member states include Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, has sought to create a joint military force since the signing of a rarely used joint defense agreement 65 years ago, according to the AP.
The actual formation and deployment of the fighting force is expected to take months. Chiefs of staff for the different nations are scheduled to present their plan for the force to the Arab League's Joint Defense Council in three months, the AP reported.
"It is an important resolution given all the unprecedented unrest and threats endured by the Arab world," Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby told reporters Sunday.
The Arab League's announcement came as airstrikes from a Saudi-led coalition of 10 Arab states continued to pound Houthi rebels in Yemen.
On Saturday, Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed bin Hasan Asiri told the Saudi Press Agency that the strikes have destroyed all of the jet fighters seized by the Houthis, their command centers, and most of their ground-to-ground ballistic missiles.
"Yemen was on the brink of the abyss, requiring effective Arab and international moves after all means of reaching a peaceful resolution have been exhausted to end the Houthi coup and restore legitimacy," Elaraby said Sunday of the airstrikes.
The Shia Houthi rebels swept through the Yemeni capital Sanaa last fall, driving out President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The embattled president fled the country last week as Houthi forces advanced on Aden, Hadi's former stronghold in the south.
Speaking to reporters at the Arab League summit, Hadi called the rebels "stooges of Iran." Iran, a majority Shia country, has denied allegations that it supports the rebels, who have toppled Yemen's Sunni-dominated government.
Humanitarian organizations have raised concerns about the heavy toll the airstrikes are taking on Yemen, a country that was already poor and battered from previous conflicts. According to Human Rights Watch, the first two days of airstrikes killed at least 11 civilians.
"Continued fighting could have disastrous consequences for the well-being and survival of millions of people who are already deprived of access to basic healthcare, safe drinking water, food, nutrition and protection," Johannes Van Der Klaauw, humanitarian coordinator for Yemen at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said in a statement from Sanaa.
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