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Republicans pile pressure on Biden to re-designate Yemen's Houthis as 'terror group'

Senator Ted Cruz and eight other Senate Republicans introduce bill to impose sanctions on Yemen's Houthis
Senator Ted Cruz's bill would re-designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation and its leaders as designated global terrorists.
Senator Ted Cruz's bill would re-designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation and its leaders as designated global terrorists (AFP/File photo)

US Senator Ted Cruz has joined a chorus of Republicans calling on the Biden administration to re-designate Yemen's Houthis as a "terrorist organisation" and reimpose sanctions on the Iran-aligned group.

In a statement released on Monday, Cruz said he introduced a bill last week that would reverse a February 2021 decision by the Biden administration to lift terrorism-related sanctions on the Houthis and their leaders.

Cruz's bill would re-designate the group as a foreign terrorist organisation and its leaders as designated global terrorists.

"Biden made it an immediate priority to unwind pressure on Iran and its proxies, including by lifting terrorism sanctions on the Houthis and their leaders – a reckless, self-indulgent, and catastrophic move," Cruz said as he introduced his bill.

Aid groups warn Houthi 'terror' designation could push Yemen closer to famine
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"This appeasement predictably caused Iran to escalate its aggression across the region, and in Yemen the Houthis launched a broad offensive within hours of the Biden administration’s announcement they would lift those sanctions.

"I've consistently sought to reimpose those sanctions and it’s now clear that if the Biden administration is unwilling to do so, then Congress should mandate that they do.”

Eight other senators, including Tom Cotton; Ben Sasse; Roger Marshall; Thom Tillis; Jim Inhofe; Marco Rubio; and John Barrasso, co-sponsored the bill.

Last week, US President Joe Biden said his administration was considering re-designating the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation following drone attacks on the United Arab Emirates that killed three migrant workers.

Several members of the US Congress also floated the idea, with Congressman Gregory Meeks, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, saying he was looking "very carefully" at the issue and was in conversation with other officials.

"I'm very concerned and condemn to the highest degree the Houthis and the utilization of the drones and the strike on the UAE. So, [that is] something that we're looking at," Meeks told Jewish Insider.

A number of US lawmakers have condemned the attacks on Abu Dhabi, with Republican Senator Todd Young saying the Houthis "are determined to continue the conflict and exacerbate the world’s worst man-made humanitarian catastrophe".

'Far-reaching impacts'

A designation of the Houthis could, however, further deteriorate the humanitarian situation in Yemen by severing access for aid groups and making it illegal for any US organisations or companies to provide assistance to those parts of Yemen controlled by the Houthis.

Yemen, which has been gripped by war since 2015, has lost tens of thousands of civilians to violence, hunger and disease. According to the UN, some 24.1 million people – or around 80 percent of the population - rely on humanitarian aid and protection to survive, while 58 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty.

Erin Hutchinson, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) country director for Yemen, told Middle East Eye last week that any possible re-designation of the group could endanger millions already struggling "to survive a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe".

"We said repeatedly in the past that designating Ansar Allah a terrorist organisation would have far-reaching impacts on Yemen's already dire humanitarian situation, and we think the same today," Hutchinson said, using another name for the Houthis.

"The designation would come with sanctions that would harm NRC's ability to provide lifesaving aid to people in dire circumstances.

"The US government must ensure that any sanctions do not block food, fuel, medicines, and other essential goods and services from entering the country and reaching people in need just trying to survive a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe."

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