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US considers designating Yemen's Houthis a terrorist group

Renewed designation talk comes as Trump administration officials push to pile further pressure on Iran, according to Washington Post
Houthi fighters gathering in Sanaa last year in an effort to mobilise more to head to the frontlines (AFP)

The Trump administration is reportedly considering designating Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group as a terrorist organisation, sources have told the Washington Post.

The designation is one among several options under discussion to punish the rebels, as the Saudi-led coalition pushes forward with a major assault on Hodeidah even while US officials call for a halt in fighting.

The strategy has come up several times since 2016, according to the Post’s sources, but is under discussion once again as administration officials seek to apply further pressure on Iran.

The US on Monday slapped fresh sanctions on Tehran’s oils exports, shipping and banking, following a separate round applied earlier this year after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Experts told the paper that the move would be mostly symbolic because the rebels do not use international financial systems and few travel to the US, but it would allow the US to prosecute those aiding the group.

The move could, however, have implications for aid groups who might be required to obtain licences from the US government in order to work in Houthi-controlled areas, the paper reported.

US officials, especially in the State Department, which would make the designation, have reportedly pushed back against the option in the past, believing it could complicate the UN-led mediation peace process.

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UN Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths had been attempting to bring the warring parties together for peace talks by the end of November, but those have been delayed until the end of the year, a UN spokesman has said.

After a week of intense battles on the outskirts of Hodeidah, troops loyal to Yemen President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi made fresh advances on Thursday, entering residential neighbourhoods using bulldozers to remove concrete blocks installed by Houthis, AFP reported.

In response, Houthis launched barrages of mortar fire and were attempting to cut off supply routes.

On Friday, medics told AFP that 110 Houthis and 22 loyalists had been killed in 24 hours of fighting in the city. 

Residents who have remained in the 600,000-strong city during the offensive that began in June have told Middle East Eye that they are stuck in their homes, unable to flee as street fighting continues outside.

"It is better to stay in my house waiting for death than to leave amid battles," Mohammed Hadi, a resident in the city's Ghulail neighbourhood said last month.

Yemen is facing an increasingly dire humanitarian situation and the threat of widespread famineAs many as 56,000 people have been killed as a direct result of the conflict, according to a recent estimate.