US to delist Yemen’s Houthis as terror organisation in days amid aid shortfall

The Biden administration will delist the group next week, but the country remains in urgent need of more humanitarian aid

epa09001803 Armed Houthi supporters walk outside of a mosque in Sana'a, Yemen, 10 February 2021. The Houthi military spokesman Yehia Sareai has claimed his movement’s responsibility for the bomb-laden drone- attack that targeted the Abha airport of Saudi Arabia, calling it a military objective.  EPA/YAHYA ARHAB
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Friday that the Biden administration would formally remove Yemen's Houthi rebels from the US list of terror organisations on Tuesday.

“This decision is a recognition of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen,” Mr Blinken said in a statement. “We have listened to warnings from the United Nations, humanitarian groups and bipartisan members of Congress, among others, that the designation could have a devastating impact on Yemen’s access to basic commodities like food and fuel.

“The revocations are intended to ensure that relevant US policies do not impede assistance to those already suffering what has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. By focusing on alleviating the humanitarian situation in Yemen, we hope the Yemeni parties can also focus on engaging in dialogue.”

The Biden administration first notified Congress that it would lift the terrorist designation on the Houthis last week. Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo designated the Houthis as a terrorist group in January shortly before leaving office. The move came after the Trump administration cut aid to Houthi-held territory in Yemen last year.

“The reversal of the designation, the naming of the special envoy [Tim Lenderking] and the clear language from the top of the US administration, from President Biden himself, expressing strong support for the UN-led mediation process and political peace process…are very welcome,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Friday.

Mr Blinken’s announcement came after the World Health Organisation stated on Friday that 400,000 Yemeni children under the age of five are at risk of dying this year from severe acute malnutrition. About 2 million other Yemeni children under the age of five are also projected to be at risk of acute malnutrition.

“It is for the children and civilians of Yemen that all Yemeni leaders and those outside of Yemen should all move in the same direction, which is a political agreement to lead to a nationwide ceasefire,” said Mr Dujarric.

Still, the Biden administration has yet to reverse former president Donald Trump's aid cuts to Yemen. And the worsening humanitarian crisis has prompted advocacy organisations to push the Biden administration and Congress to fully restore aid to Houthi-held areas of the war-torn country, where approximately 80 per cent of the Yemeni population lives.

"With the UN recording rising Covid cases in Yemeni comminutes and reporting that over 2 million children may endure acute malnutrition in 2021, this continued aid suspension is worsening the hunger crisis and exacerbating the virus's toll on a country where millions are already immunocompromised from years of war and near starvation," Hassan El-Tayyab, the legislative manager for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation told The National. "President Biden's next policy change to Yemen should be to immediately restore humanitarian aid to all parts of Yemen."

Amid the humanitarian crisis, the Houthis resumed an offensive on the Yemeni city of Marib. The fighting has resulted in dozens of deaths on both sides as the Iran-backed Houthis clash with Yemen’s internationally recognised government, which is supported by Saudi air strikes.

“We hope that [shift in US policy] helps build momentum for a political solution to the conflict in Yemen,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

“I think the reversal of the designation, the naming of the (US) special envoy (for Yemen), and the clear, clear language from the top of the administration, from President Biden himself, expressing his strong support for the UN-led mediation process … are very, very welcome indeed.”

President Joe Biden announced last week that the US would end support for the Saudi-led coalition's offensive military operations in Yemen.

Still, State Department spokesman Ned Price called on the Houthis to halt their Marib offensive this week.

Despite removing the Houthi terrorist designation, three of the group’s leaders still remain subject to US sanctions: Abdul Malik Al Houthi, Abd Al Khaliq Badr Al Din Al Houthi and Abdullah Yahya Al Hakim.