‘Terrorist’ tag for Yemen’s Huthis raises fears of aid blocks

DUBAI (AFP) – Indications that the United States (US) is considering declaring Yemen’s Huthi rebels a “terrorist organisation” have alarmed humanitarian groups who said it could cripple aid delivery and tip the country into famine.

The Iran-backed Huthis are at the centre of a flurry of diplomacy as the administration of US President Donald Trump, which has made isolating its arch foe Tehran a centrepiece of its regional policy, enters its final weeks.

Officials confirmed to AFP reports that the US is laying the groundwork for a designation of the rebel group, which controls the capital Sanaa and much of the north after a grinding five-year war that has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

“The issue here is that if they are defined as a terrorist organisation, that has many consequences,” said one Western diplomat in the Gulf who oversees Yemen.

“Some or many countries will have problems in dealing with them at all, and that can complicate the whole ‘peace’ process and the United Nations’ (UN) work,” he said, referring to hopes for an end to the conflict.

The impact on the Huthis, who are already under US sanctions, may be limited but ordinary Yemenis could pay the price, with further damage to programmes already cut back due to record-low funding during the coronavirus pandemic.

Everything from interacting with Huthi officials, handling taxes, using the banking system, paying health workers, buying food and fuel and arranging internet services could be affected.

Head of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland said his organisation joined other humanitarian groups “in expressing deep concern at the prospect of additional, near-insurmountable hurdles to providing lifesaving aid in Yemen”.