BEIRUT, Lebanon — Arab leaders meeting in Cairo on Sunday called for a renewed United Nations attempt to help halt violence in Syria, asking the Security Council to create a joint Arab-U.N. peacekeeping force to oversee implementation of a prospective cease-fire.
The Arab League request came eight days after a league initiative that called for Syrian President Bashar Assad to cede power was vetoed by Russia and China in the Security Council. Whether the latest Arab League measure would win their approval was unclear.
The Syrian government, a Russian ally, rejected the latest proposal as a "hostile act" and a blueprint for "foreign intervention in Syrian affairs," the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
Meanwhile, Syrian rebels picked up an incendiary new supporter: al-Qaida leader Ayman Zawahiri, who in a video posted on the Internet called on Muslims from neighboring nations to back the almost yearlong uprising against Assad.
Zawahiri's plea came amid reports in the Arab and Western news media that Iraqi al-Qaida operatives — with expertise in car bombs and roadside explosives previously used against U.S. forces — may already be fighting in Syria, which shares a long border and tribal ties with western Iraq.
Al-Qaida involvement would present the United States and other nations seeking to oust Assad with a thorny dilemma: Should the "Friends of Syria" coalition, as it is known, back a side that includes al-Qaida?
Sunday's Arab League request for international peacekeepers appeared much broader than what many observers had expected.
Officials had indicated that Arab League leaders would seek an Arab League-U.N. mission of unarmed observers.
There was no immediate reaction from Moscow, but it seemed improbable that Russia would embrace a call for the deployment of international peacekeepers, who would presumably be armed, though the league plan does not specify whether they would be.
The league called on nations to cut diplomatic ties with Syria and vowed "political and financial support" for the opposition.
Meanwhile, opposition activists said fighting continued in various parts of Syria, including the central city of Homs, where five were reported killed, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition network.
Nationwide, the group said, 23 people were killed.