Arab summit leaders support idea of joint military force

Egypt's president says Arab leaders meeting at a summit have agreed to the principle of creating a joint Arab military force in the face of the "challenges" facing the region.

Egyptian officials say proposed force would involve roughly 40,000 troops

Qatar's Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah attends the closing session of the Arab Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh. Arab leaders were said to have supported the formation of a regional force to counter growing security threats. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)

Egypt's president says Arab leaders meeting at a summit have agreed to the principle of creating a joint Arab military force in the face of the "challenges" facing the region.

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi made the comment Sunday during the closing session of a two-day Arab summit in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

El-Sissi says a high-level panel will work under the supervision of Arab chiefs of staff to work out the structure and mechanism of the force.

Already, a Saudi-led coalition is staging airstrikes against positions of Shia rebels in Yemen and their allies. However, it is unlikely that all 22-member nations of the Arab League will join the proposed force.

Egyptian officials say the proposed force would be made up of roughly 40,000 elite troops and backed by jets, warships and light armour.

A Saudi-led airstrike campaign targeting Shia rebels who control much of Yemen has pushed them out of contested air bases and destroyed any jet fighter remaining in the Arab world's poorest country, the kingdom has said.

Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed bin Hasan Asiri said the airstrike campaign, entering its fourth day Sunday, continued to target Scud missiles in Yemen, leaving most of their launching pads "devastated," according to remarks carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

However, he warned Saturday that the Shia rebels, known as Houthis, could control more of the missiles. His account could not be immediately corroborated.

The Houthis began their offensive in September, seizing the capital, Sanaa, and later holding embattled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi under house arrest. The rebels later took over government in Yemen and ultimately forced Hadi to flee the country in recent days.

A Saudi-led coalition of some 10 countries began bombing Yemen on Thursday, saying it was targeting the Houthis and their allies, which include forces loyal to Yemen's former leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

On Saturday, Hadi directly accused Iran of being behind the Houthi offensive as leaders at an Arab summit considered creating a military reaction force in the Mideast, raising the specter of a regional conflict pitting Sunni Arab nations against Shia power Iran. Iran and the Houthis deny that Tehran arms the rebel movement, though the Islamic Republic has provided humanitarian and other aid.

Assisting Pakistanis to leave Yemen

Meanwhile Sunday, Pakistan planned to dispatch a plane to the Yemeni city of Hodeida, hoping to evacuate some 500 citizens gathered there, said Shujaat Azim, an adviser to Pakistan's prime minister. Azim told state-run Pakistan Television more flights would follow as those controlling Yemen's airports allowed them.

Pakistan says some 3,000 of its citizens live in Yemen.

Ali Hassan, a Pakistani in Hodeida, told Pakistan's private GEO satellite news channel that hundreds there anxiously waited for a way home.

"We had sleepless nights due to the bombardment in Sanaa," Hassan said.

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