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EU slaps sanctions on Houthi chief, Saleh's son

EU accuses Ahmed Saleh and Abdulmalik al-Houthi of facilitating the Houthi's militia expansion to control many parts of Yemen
Supporters of the Houthi movement hold a portrait of the group's leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi during a demonstration in February (AFP)

The European Union has imposed sanctions on the leader of Yemen's Houthi militia, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, and the son of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Ahmed.

The two men, and the forces loyal to them, were allied in their overthrow of the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who fled the Shia militia to exile in Saudi Arabia.

Both Ahmed Saleh and Abdulmalik al-Houthi now face travel ban, freezing of assets and arms embargos.

The EU accused Ahmed Saleh of playing "a key role in facilitating the military expansion of the Houthi movement".

In December, the EU had imposed similar sanctions on former president Saleh, and several Houthi figures, but not the leader of the group.

Yemen's crisis deepened when Houthi militiamen overran the capital Sanaa in September and subsequently marched on to control other cities, including Aden where Hadi sought refuge after escaping house arrest.

The Yemeni president, whose government and parliament was dismantled by the Houthis, sought international help prompting the Saudis to launch airstrikes targeting militia positions and allied forces loyal to Saleh on 26 March.

The Saudi-led airstrikes have worsened an already bad humanitarian situation in Yemen, and the conflict between the warring parties has claimed the lives of 2,288 people since March, according the UN.

However, last week UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon announced that the exiled Yemeni leadership will meet with Houthi representatives and others on Sunday in Geneva in a bid to solve the crisis. The Geneva meeting was welcomed on Tuesday by the General People's Congress, Saleh's party.

On the ground, however, the Saudi-Yemeni border has witnessed an increase in clashes as Houthis and Saleh loyalists sent more forces near the area bordering Saudi Arabia's southern Jizan province.

According the Houthis, militia Katyusha rockets had "inflicted deaths and injuries to the soldiers there," with reports citing the death of two Saudi troops.

The Saudis have reportedly responded with intensified strikes against the Houthi stronghold of Saada province in the north of the country.

The Houthis have claimed that they held back Saudi ground troops from push into Yemeni territories, but there has been no verification of the claim.

Meanwhile, Al Arabiya TV showed footage of Bahraini troops stationed in the Saudi border, in what is thought to be largely a symbolic gesture of support.