SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) -- Arab leaders at a summit in Egypt will announce the formation of a unified regional force to counter growing security threats, according to a draft of the final communique, as conflicts rage from Yemen to Libya. The summit will also call on Iranian-allied Houthi fighters, who have made rapid advances in Yemen, to leave that country’s capital and hand over their arms to “legitimate” authorities, said the draft, obtained by Reuters.
Working out the mechanism and logistics of the unified force, an idea floated by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, could take months. Previous similar schemes have failed to produce tangible results in the divided Arab world.
The draft resolution identified the military force as voluntary, meaning no state would be required to take part. That may give Arab states the flexibility needed for intervention in countries such as Yemen, where Saudi Arabia patched together a 10-nation Arab coalition against Houthi fighters and launched military strikes Thursday.
The dangers facing the region are stark. While conflicts intensify in Yemen and Libya, the Syrian Civil War is entering its fifth year. Egypt, the most populous Arab state, faces an Islamist militant insurgency. Islamic State militants have taken over swathes of Iraq and Syria and spawned splinter groups across the Arab world. The U.S. and other major powers are seeking a final nuclear deal with Iran, in a process that worries many Sunni Arab leaders wary of Shiite Iran’s growing regional influence.
“This force will intervene to confront threats to the security and peace of any member state at the request of relevant countries,” said the draft resolution, adding that Iraq expressed reservations.
Regional Proxy Wars
The Saudi-led operation in Yemen has underlined the rivalry between the predominantly Sunni kingdom and Shiite Iran, and it could inflame sectarian proxy wars that have spread in the Middle East since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.
Chaos in Libya may be one key test for the unified force if it intervenes in a country with factions allied to two governments, vying for control of territory and oil facilities.
El-Sissi has repeatedly called for concerted Arab and Western action against what he sees as an existential threat posed by militant groups operating in Libya and elsewhere. He ordered airstrikes against Islamic State group militants in Libya after the ultra-hardline Sunni group beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians in the chaotic neighboring country.
Arab leaders will call for the United Nations to lift an international arms embargo on Libya, which says the move is needed to prevent the Islamic State group from advancing.
But Qatar, accused by the Libyan government of supporting armed groups opposed to internationally recognized authorities, expressed reservations, according to the draft communique. Doha denies accusations that it is meddling in Libya.
Analysts say Libya is turning into a conflict zone for competing regional powers and faces the threat of civil war four years after Moammar Gadhafi’s fall.
Egypt has accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, allegations it denies. Ties between the countries have been strained since el-Sissi, then the army chief, removed the Doha-backed Muslim Brotherhood from power in 2013 after mass protests against its rule.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad and Yara Bayoumy; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by William Hardy)