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Biden says US considering re-designating Yemen's Houthis as 'terrorist group'

US president says it will be 'very difficult' to end conflict by further setting Houthis against Saudi-led coalition in Yemen
US President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference at the White House on 19 January 2022.
US President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference at the White House on 19 January 2022 (AFP)
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Washington

US President Joe Biden has said his administration was considering re-designating Yemen's Houthi movement as a foreign terrorist organisation following drone attacks on the United Arab Emirates claimed by the group earlier this week.

During a news conference at the White House on Wednesday, Biden was asked if he supported re-instating the terrorist designation on the Iran-aligned Houthis. Biden replied: "The answer is, it's under consideration."

Still, the president conceded that "it's going to be very difficult" to end the conflict, which pits the Houthis against Yemen's internationally recognised government and the Saudi-led military coalition supporting it.

UAE asks US to re-designate Yemen's Houthis as terror group after Abu Dhabi attack
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The UAE welcomed Biden's remarks, with the Emirati embassy tweeting that the "case is clear - launching ballistic and cruise missiles against civilian targets, sustaining aggression, diverting aid to Yemeni people".

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed al-Jaber, said on Twitter that the international community must hold the Houthis accountable because "it encourages other terrorist organisations to act similarly".

Biden revoked the terrorist listing of the Houthis in February after former President Donald Trump's instated the designation days before leaving office.

Three people were killed and six were injured in Monday's drone and missile attack claimed by the Houthis.

In response, the Saudi-led coalition on Tuesday launched air strikes on the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa, killing at least 20 people including civilians, according to Houthi media and residents. The attack was one of the coalition's deadliest since 2019.

'Recipe for more conflict and famine'

Several members of the US Congress have also floated the idea that the administration was considering re-designating the Houthis, with Congressman Gregory Meeks, who heads the House Foreign Affairs committee, saying he was looking "very carefully" at the issue and was in conversation with other officials.

"I'm very concerned and condemn to the highest degree the Houthis and the utilization of the drones and the strike on the UAE. So, [that is] something that we're looking at," Meeks told Jewish Insider.

A number of US lawmakers have condemned the attacks on Abu Dhabi, with Republican Senator Todd Young saying the Houthis "are determined to continue the conflict and exacerbate the world’s worst man-made humanitarian catastrophe".

A designation of the Houthis could, however, further deteriorate the humanitarian situation in Yemen by severing access and making it illegal for any US organisations or companies to provide aid to those parts of Yemen controlled by the Houthis.

Yemen, which has been gripped by war since 2015, has lost tens of thousands of civilians to violence, hunger and disease. According to the UN, some 24.1 million people – or around 80 percent of the population - rely on humanitarian aid and protection to survive, while 58 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty.

"The designation would only increase the level of risk for commercial entities and further places the vital work of humanitarian and peacebuilders at risk," Hassan El-Tayyab, legislative director for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), told Middle East Eye.

Last January, FCNL and dozens of other civil society groups urged the Biden administration to revoke the designation of the Houthi group, saying that listing them as a terrorist group did nothing to address the issue of human rights violations.

However, it would be "a recipe for more conflict and famine, while unnecessarily further undermining U.S. diplomatic credibility", the groups said.