SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt - Arab leaders have agreed to form a joint military force, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced Sunday at a summit dominated by a Saudi-led offensive on Shiite rebels in Yemen.
Arab representatives would meet over the next month to study the creation of the force and present their findings to a defence ministers within four months, according to the resolution adopted by the leaders.
"Assuming the great responsibility imposed by the great challenges facing our Arab nation and threatening its capabilities, the Arab leaders had decided to agree on the principle of a joint Arab military force," Sisi told the summit in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.
The decision was mostly aimed at fighting jihadists who have overrun swathes of Iraq and Syria and secured a foothold in Libya, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said ahead of the summit.
On Sunday, Arabi told the meeting that the region was threatened by a "destructive" force that threatened "ethnic and religious diversity," in an apparent reference to the Islamic State group jihadists.
"What is important is that today there is an important decision, in light of the tumult afflicting the Arab world," he said. Egypt had pushed for the creation of the rapid response force to fight militants, and the matter gained urgency this week after Saudi Arabia and Arab allies launched air strikes on Huthi rebels in Yemen.
Backing for Yemen offensive
Arabi on Sunday said the offensive would continue until the Huthis withdraw from regions they have overrun and surrender their weapons.
Several Arab states including Egypt are participating with their militaries in the campaign, which Saudi King Salman said on Saturday would continue until the Yemeni people "enjoy security".
Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi at the start of the summit called for the campaign to end only when the Huthis "surrender", calling the rebel leader an Iranian "puppet".
However, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the leaders to find a peaceful resolution in Yemen.
"It is my fervent hope that at this Arab League summit, leaders will lay down clear guidelines to peacefully resolve the crisis in Yemen," he said.
Despite the support for a joint-Arab force, it would still take months to create and then operate on an ad-hoc basis.
Sisi said in a recent interview that the proposal for a joint force was welcomed especially by Jordan, which might take part alongside Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
Aaron Reese, deputy research director at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, said "each of these countries would bring a different capability.
"The Jordanians are well known for their special forces capability... the Egyptians of course have the most manpower and bases close to Libya."
Before Egyptian air strikes in February targeting the Islamic State group (IS) in Libya, the United Arab Emirates, which shares Cairo's antipathy towards Islamists, had reportedly used Egyptian bases to launch its own air strikes there.
Cairo had sought UN backing for intervention in Libya, dismissing attempted peace talks between the rival governments in its violence-plagued North African neighbour as ineffective.
The summit is being held under tight security, with extra police and army on the streets of what is normally a tourist resort and with military aircraft patrolling overhead.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as in every Arab summit, also figured on the agenda, with the IS penetration of Iraq, Syria and Libya another high priority.