The Arab League on Sunday asked the UN to support a new plan for resolving the crisis in Syria that sees President Bashar al-Assad transferring power to his deputy and a government of national unity within two months.
Assad should "delegate powers to the vice president to liaise with a government of national unity," to be formed in two months, according to a statement read by Qatari premier Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani after Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo to determine the fate of their observer mission.
Deployed since December 26 to oversee an Arab League peace plan, the mission has been widely criticised for its failure to stem the government's bloody crackdown on democracy protesters.
Earlier, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Riyadh had pulled its observers from the mission because the Syrian government had "not respected any of the clauses" in the Arab plan aimed at ending the crisis.
The Arab League agreed, however, to extend the mission and boost the number of observers, according to the final statement.
"We will inform the United Nations of all the resolutions of the Arab League... for its approval," Sheikh Hamad said.
The League's secretary general Nabil al-Arabi, who attended Sunday evening's news conference, explained that the request to support the United Nations was designed to "give more weight" to the Arab initiative.
The Arab foreign ministers urged "the Syrian government and all the opposition factions to engage in a serious dialogue under the auspices of the Arab League, within a period of not more than two weeks, to be able to achieve the formation of a unity government bringing together those in power and the opposition."
The new government's mission would be to implement the Arab League plan to end the crisis, and to prepare free and fair legislative and presidential elections under both Arab and international supervision.
It would also prepare the election of a constituent assembly within three months and a new constitution which would be put to a referendum.
The ministers tasked the bloc's secretary general with nominating a "special envoy" to Syria in charge of following developments in the country.
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After reading out the statement, the Qatari premier said the new plan envisaged the "peaceful departure of the Syrian regime."
"The new Arab initiative adopted by the foreign ministers envisages the peaceful departure of the Syrian regime," he said, adding that the plan "resembles the one on Yemen," which resulted in President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreeing to step down.
"If this initiative is not put in place (by Damascus), we will go to the Security Council, where the decisions will be taken," Sheikh Hamad warned.
The Syrian National Council, the country's largest opposition group, has been lobbying in Cairo for UN intervention, and SNC chief Burhan Ghaliun welcomed the League's statement of its intention to seek UN support.
But he insisted that "any transition in Syria should be preceded with the announcement of Assad's departure."
Earlier, the SNC called for the Syria file to be transferred to the UN Security Council for referral to the International Criminal Court, so that all Syrian officials implicated in "crimes against humanity" could be prosecuted under international law.
International pressure has been steadily growing on Assad's regime, with more than 5,400 people killed since anti-government protests broke out last March, according to UN figures.
But a tough Security Council resolution on Syria has been blocked by veto-wielding permanent members China and Russia, with Moscow insisting the opposition is as much to blame for the violence as the regime.
A report delivered earlier on Sunday by the chief of the Arab League's monitoring mission, General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi of Sudan, also blamed both sides for the bloodshed, according to an Arab diplomatic source.
The Arab League deployed observers in Syria on December 26, and there are presently about 165 monitors on the ground.
The Local Coordination Committees, which organises anti-regime protests, said in a statement on Sunday that 976 people have been killed in a bloody crackdown on dissent since the observer mission began.
Qatar had proposed that Arab troops be deployed in Syria, but Damascus rejected that idea outright.