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Yemen's government calls on US to designate Houthi rebels as terrorists

Minister of Information leans heavily on movement's links to Tehran, calling Shia group 'one of Iran's dangerous arms' in region
Houthis took over capital Sanaa in 2014 after overthrowing government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi (AFP/File photo)

A minister with Yemen's UN-recognised government has called on the US to designate its rival, the Houthi movement, as a terrorist organisation because of its alleged links to Iran. 

Yemen's minister of information, Moammar al-Eryani, called on Congress to make the designation in a series of tweets on Tuesday, in which he also accused Iranian forces of targeting neighbouring countries.

"We call on US House to designate Houthis militia as a terrorist org as one of Iran's dangerous arms in region, for killing, abduction and displacement for millions of Yemenis," he said. 

Eryani accused both Houthi and Iranian forces of targeting neighbouring countries by "planting marine mines" and launching "booby-trapped boats" in an attempt to threaten international shipping. 

In his posts, Eryani shared several video clips from the House Foreign Affairs Committee's recent Iran hearing with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a key architect of the White House's "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran. 

Eryani made a similar call to the US last month during a meeting with the US Ambassador to Yemen, Mathew Tueller. 

US President Donald Trump as well as former President Barack Obama, have both considered making the terror designation in the past.

The United States designated Yemen's Houthi movement as an "Entity of Particular Concern" for violations against religious freedom in December. Such a designation does open the door to US sanctions, but has yet to be used. 

The Trump administration first said it was mulling the possibility of levying sanctions against the group by adding it to the US's list of terror designations in November 2018. 

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On 9 February, the Washington Post reported that an unidentified State Department official told the paper that the Trump administration was considering suspending much of its humanitarian assistance to Yemen in response to the Houthi movement's proposed 2 percent "tax" on assistance projects.

Days later, the United Nations announced that the Houthis had dropped the idea. 

A US terror designation against the Houthi movement could further isolate the rebels, but it also poses the threat of making the humanitarian crisis in Yemen worse. 

Yemen's internationally recognised government has been fighting the Houthi movement since 2015, when the rebel group took over the country's capital Sanaa. 

The ongoing war has devastated Yemen, with an estimated 80 percent of the population - 24 million people - requiring some form of humanitarian or protection assistance, according to UNOCHA. 

Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have been major backers of the Yemeni government.

Meanwhile, the government's coalition has accused Iran of arming their Houthi rivals, a charge both Tehran and the rebels deny.