Yemen government welcomes expected Houthi terrorist designation by US

Houthi leader Abdulmalik Al Houthi to be listed as global terrorist by Washington

Houthi troops ride on the back of a police patrol truck after participating in a Houthi gathering in Sanaa, Yemen February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
Powered by automated translation

Yemen's internationally recognised government on Monday welcomed Washington's decision to designate the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and their leaders as global terrorists, effective from January 19.

The announcement was made only 10 days before US President Donald Trump leaves office.

"The designations are intended to hold Ansar Allah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure and commercial shipping," said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, using the Houthis' official name.

The rebels have led a brutal campaign that has "killed many people, continues to destabilise the region and denies Yemenis a peaceful solution to the conflict in their country," Mr Pompeo said.

He said his department would notify the US Congress of its intention to designate the group as a foreign terrorist organisation, and three of its leaders, including Abdulmalik Al Houthi, as global terrorists.

Yemen's government spokesman, Rajed Al Badi, told The National  the designation was welcomed by officials and will help to put an end to terrorist activities in the region.

By some estimates, the rebels control a third of Yemen’s most populous territories and vital economic institutions in the north.

Mr Al Badi said the designation would not prevent political consultations from progressing and the government would continue to pursue peace through the UN.

“The lack of progress for peace has been a result of rebel's stubbornness and their lack of positive engagement with the efforts of the UN,” he said.

All of the Houthis' actions over the years reflect those of terrorist groups, the deputy minister of youth, Hamza Al Kamaly, told The National.

"They have targeted civilians, women and children, committed war crimes, damaged the country's infrastructure and lastly the attack on Aden's airport is a clear indication that they are a terrorist organisation," Mr Al Kamaly said.

"Another issue is that this will put pressure on the rebels to come to the negotiations table."

Yemen's deputy human rights minister, Majid Fadhil, said the Houthis wee a terrorist group, and that since 2014 they had killed and wounded more than 41,000 civilians.

"Among them were women and children," Mr Fadhil said. "We have had 17,199 cases of kidnapping and disappearance, of which more than 3,500 cases remain unanswered.

"They are a terrorist group."

The rebels have planted more than two million mines, which destroyed more than 900 homes in 17 governorates, he said.

Yemen's deputy permanent representative to the UN, Marwan Noman, told The National  that the designation was "the right, overdue decision".

"We believe this will amplify the pressure on this militia to halt its terrorist acts against the Yemeni people as well as the region, the most recent of which is the attack on Aden Airport on the arrival of the new Yemeni Cabinet," Mr Noman said.

Yemeni human rights activist Baraa Shiban called the designation a "right step".

"Finally, after months of deliberations, the US administration made the right step today by designating the Houthis a terrorist organisation," Mr Shiban wrote on Twitter on Monday.

"You don’t need to look beyond bombing of a civilian airport that led to the death of many civilians, including a journalists and humanitarian workers, to realise the nature of this group."

The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, praised the decision.

"We welcome the US administration’s decision to classify the Houthi militia as a terrorist organisation, and to place its leaders on terrorist lists," Dr Gargash tweeted on Monday evening.

"The Houthi militia’s coup against the state and its institutions, and the Yemeni society and its social and civil fabric, sparked violence and chaos and led to the tragic deterioration of the humanitarian situation in brotherly Yemen."

Saudi Arabia also welcomed the move.

The kingdom's Foreign Ministry "expressed its hope that the designation would force the leaders of the Houthi militia backed by Iran to seriously return to the negotiating table".

It said Riyadh hoped it would prevent the group from staging more attacks.

But critics of the designation said it would hamper aid efforts and make political negotiations more difficult.

In response to the designation, the rebels could block imports of crucial aid and food through the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah, leading to the starvation of Yemenis.

Mr Pompeo said the US would put in specific provisions for aid that would reduce the effect on humanitarian support.

"We have expressed our readiness to work with relevant officials at the United Nations with international and non-government organisations and other international donors to address these implications," he said.

The designation should be viewed as a tool to stop the Houthis' deplorable behaviour while its application was not designed to harm relief and humanitarian operations, said Yemen's Foreign Minister, Ahmed bin Mubarak.

"Indeed, it is intended to push the Houthis to end their machinations and compel them to genuinely pursue realising a secure and sustainable peace," Mr bin Mubarak said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric warned that the sanctions would make it harder to get food, medicine and fuel to millions of impoverished Yemenis and that the move could also derail the fragile peace process.

“Yemen brings in almost all of its food via commercial imports," Mr Dujarric said on Monday.

"We're concerned that the designation will negatively impact, including through possible over-compliance by commercial entities, the imports of food and other essential commodities, just as more Yemenis are starving.

“There is a growing risk of famine in Yemen.

"That underlines for us the imperative for the US to swiftly grant the necessary licences and exemptions to ensure that principled humanitarian assistance can continue to reach all people who need it across the country without disruption.”

The World Food Programme says Yemen depends on food imports for 90 per cent of its wheat and 100 per cent of its rice.

Last month, 20 former US diplomats wrote an open letter to Mr Pompeo urging him against the designation.

After the public appeal, The National  spoke to Yemen's Minister of Information, Muammar Al Eryani, who said that opposing a designation would be "a shortcoming in realising the Houthi tenets and creed, which is based on murder, terrorism, slogans of death and hatred for the other, including the US".

“This position ignores the will of the Yemeni people who have been raising their voices for weeks calling for the Houthis to be designated a terrorist organisation and to be sanctioned internationally,” Mr Al Eryani said.