CAIRO -- The Arab League called yesterday for the UN Security Council to create a joint peacekeeping force for Syria and urged Arab states to sever diplomatic contact with President Bashar Assad's regime in the league's latest effort to end the violence that has killed more than 5,000 people.

Syria immediately rejected the moves, spelled out in a resolution adopted by league foreign ministers meeting in Cairo.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal conveyed the 22-nation league's deep frustration, telling delegates it was no longer appropriate to stand by and watch the bloodshed, saying, it "is a disgrace for us as Muslims and Arabs to accept."

Syria's state news agency said the regime rejected the Arab League decisions, which were taken without a Syrian representative present. Syria's ambassador to the Arab League, Ahmed Youssef, was quoted as saying Saudi Arabia and Qatar were "living in a state of hysteria after their last failure at the UN Security Council to call for outside interference in Syria's affairs and to impose sanctions on the Syrian people."

The Arab League has been at the forefront of regional efforts to end 11 months of bloodshed in Syria. When it became clear that Assad's regime was flouting the terms of a December agreement and killings were continuing, the league pulled its observers out last month.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby told the Arab foreign ministers, "We must move quickly in all directions . . . to end or break the ongoing cycle of violence."

The league urged a Security Council resolution that provides for an immediate cease-fire, the protection of civilians and overseeing a humanitarian effort for victims of the violence.

It urged Syrian opposition groups to unite ahead of a Feb. 24 meeting in Tunisia of the "Friends of Syria" group, which includes the United States, European allies and Arab nations working to end the uprising against Assad's rule.

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