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US contemplating designating Houthis as terrorists

November 9, 2018 at 4:13 pm

Houthis in Sanaa, Yemen, 6 December 2017 [Abdullah Homran/Anadolu Agency]

The US is considering designating Yemen’s Houthi rebels a terrorist organisation in an attempt to end the country’s civil war and put pressure on Iran, the group’s main sponsor.

Individuals, who spoke to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, described internal deliberations within the White House and said that the US administration has considered an array of potential actions against the Houthis, including lesser measures to punish the rebels. However, no decision had been made.

A formal terrorist designation by the State Department, the Post pointed out could further isolate the group, which seized control of Yemen’s capital in late 2014 with military backing from Iran.

US officials appear to be divided on the issue as some, particularly at the State Department, believe that it would be counterproductive and hamper UN negotiators’ efforts to get peace discussions off the ground. It’s thought that a terrorist designation would be seen as a major escalation of US pressure against the group.

READ: Yemen war kills one civilian every three hours

A designation is likely to lead to the freezing of financial assets of the Houthi movement, which controls government institutions in areas it occupies. Travel prohibitions and other penalties would also be imposed against those thought to be providing “material support” to the group.

Analysts cited by the Post said that such a move against the Houthis would be mostly symbolic. The rebels do not use the international financial system, and few Houthi figures would be affected by a ban on travel to the United States.

It’s not clear how the recent US  call for a cessation of hostilities in Yemen and to kick-start negotiations by the end of this month is helped by the designation. The last attempt to bring all the parties together failed when the rebels refused to travel to Europe for a planned meeting due to certain conditions not being met.