Yemen’s southern political movement says it supports the US plan to designate the Houthi rebels as terrorists, a move that could hamper aid deliveries in the war-torn nation.
Mohamed Al Ghaithi, from the Southern Transitional Council negotiating team in Saudi Arabia, said the mooted US designation was “long overdue” in an online meeting on Tuesday.
The outgoing Trump administration is reportedly planning to classify the Iran-backed Houthis as a “foreign terrorist organisation”, a move that would make it harder for aid workers and others to co-operate with the group.
"This is a step that should have really taken place from Day 1," Mr Al Ghaithi told The National.
“What the Houthis represent is simply that: a terrorist organisation that kills, occupies, detains and does everything that a terrorist does. Therefore, it would be a step that has been long overdue.”
The US State Department reportedly plans to label the Houthis as terrorists in one of the Trump administration’s final efforts to exert “maximum pressure” on Iran and its allies before vacating the White House on January 20.
Americans and organisations under US jurisdiction are banned from providing “material support” to any group that has been deemed a terrorist entity by the State Department. US banks are obliged to freeze funds linked to terrorist groups.
Oxfam America and other big charities have lobbied Washington against making the designation, saying the risk of exposure to US sanctions would deter aid groups from operating in Yemen’s Houthi-run north.
"Humanitarian organisations operating in Yemen are preparing for our work to become even more challenging," Scott Paul, Oxfam America's humanitarian policy lead, told The National.
“This designation is going to put Yemeni people’s lives at risk.”
Yemen is on the brink of a devastating famine that would claim millions of lives after six years of war, an economic and currency collapse and the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the UN.
Nizar Haitham, an STC spokesman in Aden, said aid was being diverted from those who need it in Yemen’s Houthi-run north.
“Aid has been channelled through agencies that are known to be from the north,” Mr Haitham said.
“Very little of that aid reaches the south and there have been examples of depots of foodstuff which has become past its use-by date because of the corruption and the way that these agencies deal with aid.”
A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces against the rebels. The Arab coalition is assisted by western powers including Britain and the US.
The Houthi rebels hold the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. The STC controls Aden and much of the south and has co-operated with coalition forces while pursuing a longer-term goal of an independent southern state.