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Houthis call on Yemenis to donate funds for ballistic missile programme

Embassy of Yemen's internationally recognised government in Washington slams crowdfunding campaign as 'brazen' political move
A fighter loyal to Yemen's Houthi rebels guards a stack of bills in Sanaa on 24 September 2020 during ceremony to collect cash, food and other donations for fighters (AFP/File photo)

A member of the Houthi movement's political bureau has called on Yemenis to donate money to the manufacture of ballistic missiles, a decision criticised by the internationally recognised government.

Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, in a post to an unverified Twitter account, asked Yemenis to call a hotline collecting funds for the Iran-backed militia force, which has been fighting against Yemen's internationally recognised government (GNA) since 2015. 

"Call 180 on Yemen Mobile to donate a hundred riyals per call to support the ballistic missile industry and the air force," Bukhaiti said in a post on Tuesday. 

The government's embassy in Washington responded on Thursday, calling the fundraiser "another brazen public campaign" and slammed the movement for attempting to collect funds while the country seeks donations to mitigate what the UN has called "the world's worst humanitarian crisis". 

The majority of Yemenis are dependent on aid and millions in the war-torn country face hunger. Meanwhile, aid agencies have warned that cuts in international aid threaten widespread famine. 

'A belligerent posture'

Bukhaiti's call also comes as the United States, under newly sworn-in President Joe Biden, attempts to mediate peace accords between the parties involved in the civil-turned-proxy war. 

But the Yemeni embassy said the "new public campaign for funds to procure more lethal weapons" is evidence that the Houthi movement, which controls northern Yemen, is "not sincerely engaging in aspects for diplomacy & deescalation". 

"They still maintain a belligerent posture and aim to expand hostilities," the embassy continued, highlighting recent attacks on Marib as further evidence. 

The Houthis resumed a push to capture Marib city, which lies close to some of Yemen's richest oil fields in the north of the country, early last month. 

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Hundreds of fighters from both sides have been killed in recent weeks, as the movement intensifies its attempts to capture the strategic province. 

Houthi forces also fired a cross-border missile at a Saudi Aramco facility at the Red Sea city of Jeddah on Thursday, according to a Houthi military spokesman. 

Since the start of the war, the Houthis have insisted their movement seeks to combat economic underdevelopment and political marginalisation in Yemen, as well as greater autonomy for Houthi-majority regions of the country.

While the Houthi movement relies mostly on short-range missiles, small arms and light weapons, as well as some small weaponised drones, the Saudi-led coalition backing the government regularly utilises air strikes against the militia as well as civilian targets. 

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have justified their interference in Yemen, which began during the early days of the war, with accusations that Iran, a regional rival, had been interfering by heavily arming the Houthi movement. 

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the United Nations have, in part, refuted such claims.

"While Iranian arms supplies have not been trivial, the primary sources of arms from the Houthis have been local, from those sections of the Yemeni army that supported them, from their former pro-Saleh allies, captured weapons, and the sort of locally assembled equipment," The World Peace Foundation said in a report summarising SIPRI and UN findings. 

On Wednesday, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman rejected recent US allegations that Iran has been fanning "the flames of the conflict" in Yemen, lashing out at Washington for selling weapons to the Saudi-led coalition, calling its role in the war a "blood trade".