The UN Security Council has slapped sanctions on Houthi leader Muhammad Abd Al Karim Al Ghamari and two other members of the rebel group that for seven years has controlled much of northern Yemen and the capital Sanaa.
Those named in the sanctions are now subject to asset freezes and travel bans due to their involvement in strikes on Saudi Arabia and the Houthi offensive on the oil-rich Marib region, Britain’s UN mission said in a statement on Wednesday.
Mr Al Ghamari, the Houthi chief of general staff, leads the group's “efforts that are directly threatening the peace, security and stability of Yemen, including in Marib, as well as cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia”, the sanctions listing said.
Also sanctioned were Yusuf Al Madani, a Houthi leader involved in the offensive in Marib, and Saleh Mesfer Saleh Al Shaer, an assistant defence minister who has helped smuggle weapons for the Iran-backed group.
Britain emphasised the group’s actions in Marib as being one of the drivers behind the sanctions, as the Houthis have used child soldiers in the offensive and have cut off civilian access to aid.
“Yemen has one of the highest verified numbers of human rights violations and abuses against children, including cases of abduction, recruitment and acts of sexual violence,” said the UK statement.
The listing was the first UN designation involving Yemen since Sultan Saleh Aida Aida Zabin, the Houthi police chief in Sanaa, was sanctioned in February for a wave of detentions, torture and sexual violence against women activists.
The Houthis, however, have shrugged off sanctions in the past. Group members do not typically hold substantial foreign assets or travel internationally.
The conflict in Yemen began in 2014 when the Houthis seized Sanaa, prompting Saudi Arabia-led forces, backed by the US, to intervene to prop up the ousted government the following year.
The assault on Marib began in February and has intensified in recent weeks. It is the internationally recognised government’s last stronghold in northern Yemen and a Houthi victory there could prove decisive in the conflict after years of countless lives lost and thousands living in constant fear.
The US and UN have been working with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Yemen to broker a peace deal.
Coalition spokesman Gen Turki Al Malki told Reuters on Wednesday that reports of a Saudi military withdrawal from Yemen were “baseless and unfounded".
“Movement and redeployment of troops based on operational and tactical assessment” was a standard operation “in all military forces across the world,” Gen Al Malki said.
He said troops were redeploying in line with a strategy to support Yemeni forces but were not withdrawing. Mr Al Malki also announced early on Thursday morning that the Saudi coalition had carried out “precise air strikes” in Sanaa and Saada, but said the coalition was still exercising restraint. The air strikes targeted ballistic missiles and weapons depots.