The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has extended an arms embargo to all Houthi rebels, as the Yemeni group faces increased international pressure after a string of recent attacks on Gulf countries.
Monday’s resolution, proposed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and adopted with 11 votes in favour and four abstentions, extends an embargo that until now targeted some Houthi leaders to the entire rebel group.
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The Emirati mission to the UN welcomed the result of the vote, saying the resolution would “curtail the military capabilities of the Houthis & push toward stopping their escalation in Yemen & the region”.
The move comes days after United States President Joe Biden’s administration issued new sanctions against a network that it accused of transferring tens of millions of dollars to the Houthis – and amid a push by the Emirati government for countries to take a tougher stance against the rebels.
The Houthis have ramped up their attacks against Saudi Arabia and started directly targeting the UAE in recent weeks.
A Saudi-led, US-backed coalition, which included the UAE, intervened in Yemen in 2015 to push back the rebels, who had taken over most of the country, including the capital Sanaa, and to restore the Gulf-backed government of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthi supreme revolutionary committee, criticised the UNSC decision for ignoring “crimes” by the coalition and said in a Twitter post that any arms embargo that does not apply to the alliance “had no value”.
The war in Yemen has brought the country to the verge of famine, sparking what the UN has said is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. The coalition accuses the Houthis of being proxies of Iran – a charge that both the rebels and Tehran reject.
Russia, which is close to Iran, on Monday voted in favour of the UNSC resolution, which states that the Houthi rebels in their entirety will now be subject to an arms embargo first declared in 2015 on some of their leaders.
Diplomats, speaking to the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity, said Russia’s position suggests a deal was cut between Moscow and Abu Dhabi for the latter to abstain in upcoming UN votes on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The UAE on Friday abstained from a vote on a UNSC draft resolution that would have deplored Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which to date has killed more than 350 civilians, according to the Ukrainian ministry of health.
Peter Salisbury, a senior Yemen analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the UNSC vote comes amid a push by the UAE for a “more aggressive stance” against the Houthis in light of the group’s recent attacks.
But he said on Twitter that the “group-wide arms embargo doesn’t change much in practice as already applied as if to whole group”.
The UAE had pushed for a more aggressive stance on the Huthis in the wake of Huthi missile/drone attacks on UAE in Jab/Feb, and had also asked for language implementing asset freezes, travel bans, expanded authorities for maritime interdiction. Bit by bit these were removed.
— Peter Salisbury (@peterjsalisbury) February 28, 2022
The US has faced growing pressure to re-designate the Houthis as a “terrorist” group.
Rights groups have cautioned Biden against such a move, however, saying it could disrupt the flow of much-needed humanitarian aid to Yemen, especially to areas under Houthi control.
Monday’s UNSC resolution described the Houthis as a “terrorist group”.
It said the council “strongly condemns the cross-border attacks by the Houthi terrorist group, including attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates striking civilians and civilian infrastructure, and demanding the immediate cessation of such attacks”.
Norway said it chose to abstain from the UNSC vote because it was “worried that using such terminology, absent a clear definition, may have [a] negative impact on UN efforts to facilitate a political solution in Yemen”.
“Norway is also worried about unintended humanitarian consequences of this new language and that it could negatively affect UN efforts to address large-scale humanitarian needs throughout Yemen,” the Norwegian mission to the UN said in a statement.