US to label Yemen’s Houthis as ‘global terrorists’

The US is set to re-label Yemen’s Houthi rebels as ‘global terrorists’ again, after they launched constant missile attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea.

The Biden administration is planning to re-impose the “global terrorist” designation on Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have been launching attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea with the support of Iran, senior US officials said.

The decision, which will be approved by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, will oblige US financial institutions to block Houthi assets and prohibit Houthi members from entering the US.

This is a reversal of Blinken’s previous decision in 2021 to remove the Houthis from the list. The Houthis were designated as specially designated global terrorists (SDGT) and foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) by the Trump administration in its final days, despite the UN and humanitarian organizations warning that this could worsen the famine in Yemen, which is already ravaged by war.

However, shortly after President Joe Biden took office in 2021, Blinken rescinded the designation, citing the humanitarian situation as the reason.

Senior administration officials, speaking to reporters before the announcement on Wednesday, justified the decision to restore the SDGT label but not the FTO label, saying that this was done to ensure that aid could still reach Yemen. “It was the right step to revoke,” one official said, explaining that it was a measure taken in “recognition of a very dire humanitarian situation” in the country and to make sure that “US policies weren’t hindering” the delivery of aid to civilians.

They acknowledged that the Houthis’ attacks on commercial shipping, which have involved dozens of missiles fired at ships in the Red Sea, have become “unacceptable”.

The new SDGT designation, which will take effect in 30 days, will also prevent individuals and entities in the US from providing any assistance to the Houthis. However, officials stressed that they would include various exemptions in the new designation to allow humanitarian aid to continue to flow into Yemen, a country that has been torn apart by a civil war for almost 10 years.

“We recognise the grave humanitarian situation in Yemen and we are taking steps to ensure these sanctions cause the least damage to the Yemeni people,” one official said, adding that they were creating “unprecedented carve outs and licences” for the designation.

Yemen has been engulfed by a civil war that intensified in 2015, when the Houthis took over large parts of the west of the country from the internationally-recognised government and a Saudi-led coalition intervened to try to restore its authority.

The conflict has reportedly killed more than 160,000 people and triggered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with two thirds of the population – 21 million people – requiring some form of aid.

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