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CAIRO (Reuters) - The Arab League called on Sunday for the U.N. Security Council to send a joint U.N.-Arab peacekeeping mission to Syria and decided to scrap its own monitoring team, according to a resolution approved by ministers and obtained by Reuters.
Arab ministers met in Cairo to revive diplomatic efforts after Russia and China vetoed a U.N. resolution that called for President Bashar al-Assad to step aside. That resolution was based on an Arab peace plan and had Western backing.
The Arab League called for "opening communication channels with the Syrian opposition and providing all forms of political and material support to it". It also urged the opposition to unify its ranks.
As part of the Arab efforts, Tunisia said it would host the first meeting on February 24 of a "Friends of Syria" contact group made up of Arab and other states and backed by Western powers.
"How long will we stay as onlookers to what is happening to the brotherly Syrian people, and how much longer will we grant the Syrian regime one period after another so it can commit more massacres against its people?" Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal asked ministers at the start of the League session.
"At our meeting today I call for decisive measures, after the failure of the half-solutions," he said. "The Arab League should ... open all channels of communication with the Syrian opposition and give all forms of support to it."
The resolution said Arabs would scrap their monitoring mission which had been sent to Syria in late December but which was criticised by Syria's opposition as ineffective from the outset. It also faced internal dissent and logistical problems.
The Sudanese general leading the observers quit on Sunday.
"I won't work one more time in the framework of the Arab League," General Mohammed al-Dabi, whose appointment had been criticised because of Sudan's own rights record, told Reuters.
"I performed my job with full integrity and transparency but I won't work here again as the situation is skewed," he added.
In place of the Arab team, the League called for the U.N. Security Council to issue a resolution setting up a joint U.N.-Arab peacekeeping mission to go to Syria.
League chief Nabil Elaraby has already proposed such a joint mission to the U.N. secretary-general but the plan has drawn lukewarm support from diplomats at the United Nations in New York. The United States and Germany said they were studying it.
The resolution said violence against civilians in Syria had violated international law and "perpetrators deserve punishment". It also reaffirmed a call for Arabs to implement economic sanctions on Syria and decided on ending diplomatic cooperation with Damascus.
Analysts and diplomats say sanctions that Arabs agreed to impose last year had limited impact so far because Iraq and other neighbours have not implemented them.
Although the ministers lent their support to the opposition, the resolution did not recognise the opposition.
Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Ben Abdessalem told reporters that recognising the Syrian National Council was "premature and requires the opposition get unified".
Earlier he had told ministers: "The Syrian people deserve freedom as much as their brothers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other Arab states that witnessed major political change."
Ben Abdessalem also announced that Tunisia would host the meeting of "Friends of Syria", a plan proposed by France and the United States after Russia and China blocked the Security Council resolution.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said the new forum would provide "a good opportunity to try to create a clear international direction to help the Syrian people to exit the crisis".
Gulf states have been leading moves to isolate Assad. They announced last week that they were recalling their ambassadors from Syria and expelling Syria's envoys.
Libya and Tunisia, both countries where popular revolts toppled authoritarian rulers last year, have done likewise.
The Saudi minister criticised the Security Council's failure to back the Arab plan for Syria. Elaraby said the veto, cause of much Arab frustration, exposed the failings of the Council's voting system.
The League resolution expressed the "disappointment towards the Russia and Chinese stance which used a veto against supporting the Arab peace plan".
Diplomats at the United Nations said Saudi Arabia had circulated a new draft resolution backing the Arab plan for the General Assembly, rather than the Security Council, to consider. Assembly resolutions are non-binding but cannot be vetoed.
However, Riyadh denied on Sunday reports that it had formally presented the resolution to the assembly.
Egypt's news agency said Elaraby had proposed appointing former Jordanian minister and U.N. envoy to Libya, Abdel Elah al-Khatib, as the League's special envoy to Syria. But a source in the meeting said Khatib's name was not put forward.
Additional reporting by Tom Perry, Tamim Elyan and Omar Fahmy; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alistair Lyon