Arab League montiors in Syria - AFP - Jan 2012
A photo released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) showing Arab League observers meeting with Syrian Christian and Muslim clerics in Damascus on Tuesday. Photo by AFP
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The Arab League Sunday called on President Bashar Assad to transfer his powers to his deputy as a step toward holding free parliamentary and presidential elections in the violence-stricken country.

The league's foreign ministers also called for the creation of an interim national unity government in Damascus to be tasked with implementing an Arab plan to end nearly 11 months of bloody unrest in Syria.

The proposed government would include opposition leaders and be formed in two months' time, under proposals unveiled by the pan-Arab organization at a meeting in Cairo.

"Another task of this government is to hold an election for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution that will be voted on in a public referendum," said a draft statement discussed by the ministers.

The Arab League, meanwhile, extended the mandate of an observer mission in Syria by another month amid dissent from Saudi Arabia, which said it would withdraw its observers from the mission, according to sources.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the move was in protest against the Syrian government's failure to comply with the Arab peace plan.

"The international community, including the Islamic countries, China and Russia, should place every possible pressure on the Syrian government to implement the Arab initiative," he added.

The mission, whose mandate expired on Thursday, was sent to Syria last month to monitor implementation of a deal committing the Syrian government to end a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

But the Syrian opposition says the mission was manipulated by Assad's regime and has provided a diplomatic cover for Damascus to pursue oppression of rebels and protesters.

The opposition Syrian National Council has formally asked Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi to refer the crisis to the UN Security Council.

At least 22 people were killed by government forces across Syria on Sunday, according to the General Syria Revolution Committees, a network of opposition activists. The bulk of the deaths occurred on the outskirts of Damascus, it said.

The UN estimates that 5,400 people have been killed in the government crackdown on protesters, who have been calling for the ouster of Assad's regime since mid-March.