US designation of Yemen’s Houthi rebels as ‘terrorists’ may also impede the flow of much-needed aid, agencies say.
The Biden administration on Sunday warned Yemen’s Houthi rebels against continued attacks, days after moving to remove a “foreign terrorist organisation” designation placed on the group by former President Donald Trump in the last days of his term.
The Department of State called on the Iran-linked rebel group, which controls vast swaths of the impoverished nation, including the capital Sanaa, to immediately stop attacks on civilians in Saudi Arabia and cease new military operations in the war-torn country.
“As the president is taking steps to end the war in Yemen and Saudi Arabia has endorsed a negotiated settlement, the United States is deeply troubled by continued Houthi attacks,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
“We call on the Houthis to immediately cease attacks impacting civilian areas inside Saudi Arabia and to halt any new military offensives inside Yemen, which only bring more suffering to the Yemeni people,” he added.
On Friday, the Biden administration notified the US Congress that it would remove the Houthis’ designation, which comes with severe US sanctions.
Aid agencies had decried the decision by Trump, saying sanctions would hamper humanitarian work in the country, where more than 80 percent of people depend on foreign aid to survive.
Houthi rebels are engaged in a battle with a Saudi-led military coalition, which launched a devastating bombing campaign in support of the overthrown President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
According to a UN estimate, more than 230,000 people have died, mostly from indirect reasons such as a lack of food, water and health, since the coalition intervened militarily in March 2015.
The Houthis have launched missile and drone attacks on positions inside Saudi territory in what it calls retaliation to the Saudi air raids.
President Joe Biden last week ordered an end to US support for the Saudi-led military offensive against the Houthis in a major foreign policy shift since taking over from Trump.
Earlier on Sunday, the UN special envoy for Yemen arrived on his first visit to Iran for talks on the grinding war.
Martin Griffiths was set to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other officials during his two-day visit, his office said.
The sessions are part of a broader effort to negotiate a political solution to the nearly six-year conflict pitting the Houthis against Yemeni government forces supported by a Saudi-led military coalition.
“We urge the Houthis to refrain from destabilising actions and demonstrate their commitment to constructively engage in UN Special Envoy Griffiths’ efforts to achieve peace,” Price, the Department of State spokesman, said in the statement. “The time is now to find an end to this conflict.”