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US sanctions five Houthi members in Yemen for 'serious human rights abuses'

Designations come days after Washington blacklisted Iran's envoy to Houthis
The Trump administration has been considering designating the Houthi group as a foreign terrorist organisation.
Trump administration has been considering designating Houthi group as foreign terrorist organisation (AFP)

The US Treasury Department on Thursday issued sanctions against five members of the rebel Houthi group in Yemen, as the Trump administration continued to push forward on its "maximum pressure" campaign, viewing the Houthis as an Iran proxy group.

In a news release, the Treasury said it had designated Sultan Zabin, head of the Sanaa criminal investigation department; Abdul Hakim al-Khaiwani, deputy minister of the interior; Abdul Rahab Jarfan, former head of the national security bureau, as well as Houthi members Motlaq Amer al-Marrani and Qader al-Shami.

The sanctions were lodged in light of "serious human rights abuse", the department said.

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"As we recognize International Human Rights Day, the United States stands with innocent civilians around the globe who have been victims of violence and oppression," Deputy Secretary Justin Muzinich said in a statement.

The Treasury said that the Houthi group has targeted, illegally arrested and mistreated women, activists, journalists, aid workers, political opponents and members of the Bahai faith community.

The sanctions announcement comes days after the Trump administration blacklisted Iran's envoy to the Houthis, Hasan Irlu, who the administration labelled as an official of Iran’s elite Quds Force, the overseas arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

"The appointment of an IRGC-QF official as an envoy to the Houthi rebels in Yemen demonstrates the Iranian regime’s indifference to resolving the conflict, which has led to the widespread suffering of millions of Yemenis," said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement posted on the Treasury's website.

The Trump administration has been working overtime on its "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran in an attempt to make it even more difficult for President-elect Joe Biden to return to the Iran nuclear deal.

The numerous sanctions on Iranian officials and entities make it increasingly difficult to undo them once Biden comes into office.

The Trump administration is also working to extend the pressure campaign against the Houthis in Yemen, a group Washington says is being supported by Iran - a claim Tehran denies.

The administration has also been considering designating the Houthi group as a foreign terrorist organisation, a move that would have a disastrous impact on humanitarian access to the country, which the UN has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The group controls the capital Sanaa as well as the port of Hodeidah, and humanitarian groups have no choice but to work through the Houthis in order to deliver aid to areas where about 70 percent of Yemeni civilians reside.