The US sanctions come after the Biden administration lifted the ‘Foreign Terrorist’ designation for the group.
The Houthi movement fighting in Yemen has said that United States sanctions against two of its leaders will prolong the war and worsen the humanitarian crisis in the country.
The US announced the sanctions on Tuesday against Mansur al-Sa’adi, the Houthi Naval Forces Chief of Staff, and Ahmad Ali Ahsan al-Hamzi, the commander of Yemen’s Houthi-aligned Yemeni Air Force and Air Defense Forces, citing their alleged roles in cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia and shipping vessels in the Red Sea.
The move comes after the administration of President Joe Biden lifted a Trump-era designation of the Houthis as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization”, which banned Americans from doing business with them and made it a crime to provide support or resources to the movement.
The designation was condemned by the United Nations and human rights groups, which said it could further cripple the economy of a country already grappling with what the US calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
However, some observers have said revoking the label has taken too much pressure off the Houthis, who, along with the Saudi Arabia-led coalition they have been fighting since 2015, have been accused of human rights abuses and war crimes.
“America is condemning itself and confirming that it is not thinking about stopping the aggression … and that it stands behind the prolongation of the war and the exacerbation of the humanitarian crisis,” Houthi official Mohammed Abdulsalam said on Wednesday, according to the group’s Al Masirah TV channel.
The US has said it is re-upping pressure for a diplomatic solution to the conflict, which began when the Houthis removed Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from the capital Aden in 2014 and has pushed at least 16 million people to the brink of famine.
Last month, the Biden administration announced it was ending support for “offensive operations” for the Saudi coalition in Yemen and that it would end sales of some arms to the country. The administration, however, promised to continue to support Riyadh’s defensive operations.
The Biden administration is also expected to use a recently declassified intelligence report, which said that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, to pressure Riyadh into ending the conflict.
The Houthis, for their part, have continued to target Saudi Arabia with ballistic missiles and drones in recent days. The attacks come as the Saudi coalition has pounded the rebels with air raids in an attempt to stop their advance on Marib, the last government stronghold in Yemen’s north.