What does revoking the US ‘terrorist’ designation mean for aid to Yemen?
Yemen’s internationally recognised government has “categorically” rejected Houthi allegations over a blockade imposed on the war-torn country.
In a series of tweets on Wednesday, the Yemeni embassy in Washington said the government “categorically rejects all assertions & allegations of a blockade on Yemen barring any food and commercial shipping” from entering the ports of Hodeidah and Salif.
It said that a “false narrative” by the Houthis had also been refuted by the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM) and the government also accused the rebel group of diverting customs duties from oil imports to fund their war effort.
The government, headed by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and Houthi rebels have been locked in an intractable dispute since 2014, when the Iran-allied group seized the capital and much of northern Yemen.
The conflict escalated significantly after a Saudi-led coalition intervened in March of the following year to reinstate Hadi’s government, enforcing a naval and air blockade to prevent the smuggling of weapons into the country.
Both the UN and human rights groups have said that the move has restricted the flow of aid and essential goods, putting at risk millions of people who depend on such imports for survival.
The Yemeni mission on Wednesday said that an agreement between the government and the rebels was reached following UN-sponsored peace talks in Stockholm in 2020 to set up a joint account to deposit taxes and customs.
“With the implementation of the agreement, dozens of ships initially entered and deposited tax and customs revenue reaching an amount of 35 billion Yemeni riyals. However, after two months, Houthi militias then looted these funds,” it said.
[THREAD]: Govt of #Yemen categorically rejects all assertions & allegations of a blockade on Yemen barring any food & commercial shipping from entering Ports of #Hodeida & #Salif. This false narrative is also refuted by records of UNVIM. 1/13
— Yemen Embassy D.C. (@YemenEmbassy_DC) March 17, 2021
It said the group’s misappropriation of funds and refusal to have their accounts audited by the UN has forced the government in Aden to pay the salaries of state functionaries working in rebel-held areas.
“The problem is that Houthis are still plundering revenues of oil derivatives and using resources to procure arms to attack civilians, and with designs to expand their military control over entire Yemeni people.”
Since last month, the Houthis have been pushing to seize the government’s last northern stronghold of Marib, the capital of an oil-rich region that is host to at least a million displaced people.
The push for Marib came after the Biden administration last month officially withdrew former President Donald Trump’s designation of the group as a “terrorist” organisation and withdrew its backing for the Saudi-led coalition, even as it said it would continue to support the kingdom’s right to defend itself.
Meanwhile, Mohammed Abdulsalam, a Houthi spokesman, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that a blockade against the country must end before a ceasefire agreement can be reached.
“The humanitarian side must be separated from the military one,” he said. “We were asked for a comprehensive ceasefire … but the first stage is to open the sea ports and airports, then go towards the process of a strategic ceasefire, which is stopping the strikes, missiles and drones.
“When the sea port and the airport open, we’re ready to negotiate.”
While denying that the group held any “direct meetings” with US officials, Abdulsalam said that channels of communication had been established.
“We received messages via Oman,” which has played a mediating role in the conflict, he said, adding that no “new plan” was presented.
However, the Houthis have “received in recent days new ideas and submitted our remarks”, he said, without elaborating.