Arab League military chiefs decided Wednesday to form a panel to examine all aspects of building a region-wide military force aimed at combatting jihadists, including the Islamic State (IS) group.
The bloc agreed in March to set up the force, with members given four months to decide on its composition, precise rules of engagement and budget.
Top brass gathered at League headquarters in Cairo decided “to set up a high-ranking committee under the supervision of army chiefs to examine all aspects of this issue,” said a statement at the end of their meeting.
“The panel will examine the mechanisms and budget needed to set up the joint Arab military force, and also the legal framework.”
It was not immediately clear when the committee will actually be formed, but the statement said it would meet in the next few weeks.
The meeting, attended by Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, was chaired by Egyptian Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Mahmud Hegazy.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been pushing for the creation of the force since February, after a video emerged showing IS executing a group of Coptic Christians in neighbouring Libya, prompting retaliatory air strikes by Cairo.
The idea gained momentum after Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies launched air strikes on Iran-backed Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen.
“The creation of a joint Arab force in no way aims to form a new alliance or army hostile to any country, but a force to fight terrorism and maintain security, peace and stability in the region,” Arabi said at the start of Wednesday’s meeting.
Hegazy said there was a need to “fight terrorism,” adding that the force might intervene in internal conflicts.
“We cannot ignore internal conflicts and the growth of terrorist organisations in an Arab country, and it is wrong to think that these conflicts have no direct or indirect repercussions in other Arab countries,” he said.
Egypt, the most populous Arab country, appears set to become the backbone of the force.
Cairo sees it as imperative to intervene in Libya against the local branch of IS that is gaining ground in the country.
IS has carried out widespread atrocities in the region and won the support of several other jihadist organisations.
On Sunday it released a video purportedly showing the execution of about 30 Ethiopian Christians captured in Libya.