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US to designate Yemen's Houthis as terror group as soon as Monday, say sources

Decision to blacklist Iran-aligned group could jeopardise humanitarian relief efforts and derail UN-led peace talks as US President-elect Biden prepares to take over from Trump
A Houthi fighter stands guard during a rally marking the death of Shia Imam Zaid bin Ali in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, 14 September 2020 (AFP)

The United States plans to designate Yemen's Houthi movement as a foreign terrorist organisation, three sources familiar with the matter have said, a move that diplomats and aid groups worry could complicate efforts to combat the world's largest humanitarian crisis.

The decision to blacklist the Iran-aligned group, which could be announced as soon as Monday according to two of the sources, would also threaten to derail UN-led peace talks as the administration of President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take over from the Trump administration on 20 January, Reuters reported.

One person familiar with the matter said the Trump administration had worked out certain "allowances" to permit continued delivery of humanitarian supplies to Yemen and insisted that US sanctions rules in most cases leave room for aid organisations to work. The source declined to elaborate.

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A fierce internal debate over how to carve out exceptions for aid shipments held up a final decision on the Houthi designation, which has been in the works for weeks, multiple sources have said.

A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Houthi group, officially known as Ansar Allah. UN officials are trying to revive peace talks to end the war as the country's suffering is also worsened by an economic and currency collapse and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The United Nations describes Yemen as the world's largest humanitarian crisis, with 80 percent of the country's people in need of help. Top UN officials have warned that millions of people are facing famine and that more money is needed to deliver aid.

The Houthi group is the de facto authority in northern Yemen and aid agencies have to work with it to deliver assistance. Aid workers and supplies also come in through Houthi-controlled Sanaa airport and Hodeidah port.