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Incoming Biden official calls for reversal of Houthi terror designation

National security advisor nominee Jake Sullivan says Trump administration's move 'will only inflict more suffering on Yemeni people'
A woman carries a young infant suffering from severe malnutrition since birth in Yemen's northern Hajjah province on 6 December 2020 (AFP)

The outgoing Trump administration's decision to classify Yemen's Houthi rebels as terrorists will only cause more suffering for the people of that war-torn nation, Joe Biden's nominee for national security advisor said Saturday.

The rebels control much of Yemen and have faced a military offensive led by Saudi Arabia, with millions in Yemen depending on aid to survive.

Biden faces calls to reverse labelling of Yemen's Houthis as terrorists
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Designating the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, a terrorist group is expected to halt many transactions with Houthi authorities, including bank transfers, payments for medical personnel and for food and fuel, due to fears of US prosecution.

"Houthi commanders need to be held accountable, but designating the whole organisation will only inflict more suffering on Yemeni people and impede diplomacy critical to end the war," Biden's pick for national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, tweeted.

The designation is set to come into force on 19 January, the eve of the inauguration of Biden, whose aides had hoped to mount a fresh push to end Yemen's six-year war.

It is also seen as complicating the incoming US leader's promised efforts to restart diplomacy with Iran, which has links to the Houthis.

The terrorist classification has drawn criticism from the United Nations, aid groups, the European Union and many others over fears it will exacerbate the already dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

"What is the likely humanitarian impact? The answer is a large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years," Mark Lowcock, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, said Thursday.

Lowcock said exemptions to allow aid agencies to deliver supplies, as suggested by Washington, would not be sufficient to avoid a famine, adding "what would prevent it? A reversal of the decision."

The Trump administration's decision has had a mixed reception in Yemen, with some supporters of Saudi-backed President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi accusing UN officials opposed to the terrorism designation of taking the side of the Houthis, while others have raised fears that the move would only make the situation worse for the country's already struggling population.