The Biden administration on Wednesday issued sanctions targeting an international business network that funds Yemen’s Houthi rebels and their attacks on civilians in Yemen and the Persian Gulf, an action that is part of efforts to bankrupt funds that prolong the country’s seven-year civil war.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the sanctions were closely coordinated with Gulf partners as a response to Houthi attacks inside Yemen and recent terrorist attacks targeting civilian sites in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over recent weeks, which have caused numerous civilian casualties.
“We continue to work closely with our regional partners to act decisively against those seeking to prolong this war for their own goals,” Blinken said in a statement.
“The United States remains firmly committed to helping Saudi Arabia and the UAE defend themselves and the tens of thousands of U.S. citizens living in the Gulf against these Houthi attacks.”
The Biden administration is under pressure to more forcefully confront Yemen’s Houthis, which are backed by Iran, after lifting a terrorist designation on the group that was imposed by former President Trump in the waning days of the administration.
Critics of the administration’s decision say that delisting the Houthis has emboldened the group to carry out terrorist attacks, most recently against a commercial airport in Saudi Arabia on Feb. 10 that injured at least a dozen civilians.
The Houthis have also taken responsibility for other terrorist attacks against Saudi Arabia, and in January the militant group launched at least two attacks against the UAE with missiles and armed drones.
But Democrats, officials with the United Nations and human rights workers argue such a designation against the Houthis would make it impossible for humanitarian groups to deliver critical assistance to an estimated 21 million people in need, about two-thirds of the population.
“We urge you not to pursue a designation that would have little practical impact on the Houthi leadership but would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences,” Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a letter to Biden on Wednesday that was signed by 11 of his Democratic colleagues.
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“Millions of Yemeni lives hang in the balance, and the United States should remain focused on alleviating the human suffering and ending this war.”
Yemen’s seven-year civil war holds the devastating distinction of being one of the worst humanitarian crises in history with a brutal armed conflict exacerbating conditions in an already poverty-stricken country.
In January, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs raised alarm that civilian casualties are surging from an increase in armed conflict, with 650 civilians killed in the first month of 2022, marking the highest monthly count of civilian casualties in over three years.