Plan to brand Houthis terrorists could worsen disaster in Yemen, aid agencies warn

British government proposal could stymie steps to prolong ceasefire and hasten peace talks

A UK proposal to brand rebel Houthis a terrorist organisation could deepen Yemen’s humanitarian disaster, British aid agencies operating in the country have warned their government.

"The likely 'chilling effect' on banks and other commercial actors could prove catastrophic for the millions of Yemenis already at risk from hunger, conflict and disease," the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Save the Children, Care, Islamic Relief and six other agencies wrote in a letter cited by the Guardian.

The designation could also “cripple the humanitarian response” and interfere with essential trade in food and medical supplies to the Houthi-held north where 80 per cent of Yemenis live, they said.

Under pressure from the IRC and other aid agencies, the US Biden administration delisted the Houthis in February last year. Decreed by ex-president Donald Trump, the designation had become effective the day before he left office in January 2021.

At that time, the IRC called the decision a “callous political move that will harm rather than help the urgently needed peace process” as well as “trigger greater suffering for the Yemeni people”.

Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have continued to urge this course of action, prompting the Biden administration to also reconsider its position.

The Saudis and Emiratis have been targeted by Houthi missile and drone strikes in retaliation for offensives in Yemen’s seven-year war against the Houthis which has killed 377,000 and displaced four million Yemenis.

Branding the rebels terrorists now could scupper the UN-brokered two-month ceasefire between the Houthis and the Saudi-sponsored government imposed last weekend to begin with the Muslim fasting and peacemaking month of Ramadan. Under the ceasefire, the first since 2016, air, land and sea operations have been suspended.

Exchange prisoners

There will be 18 deliveries of fuel through the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeida and two commercial flights a week at Houthi-held Sanaa airport. Both have been blockaded by Saudi Arabia which has allowed limited humanitarian access through the airport and port, accounting for 70 per cent of Yemen's imports. The Houthi siege of pro-government forces in the city of Taez will end.

Two ships loaded with fuel have docked at Hodeida and the guns have been silent. There is hope that the sides will exchange prisoners and begin talks on a peace deal.

UN envoy Hans Grundberg said the ceasefire could be renewed if the parties consent.

“The success of this initiative will depend on the warring parties’ continued commitment to implementing the truce agreement with its accompanying humanitarian measures.”

He expressed the hope that “the goodwill that we saw from all sides in public will translate into long-term de-escalation of inflammatory media rhetoric and hate speech.”

Branding the Houthis terrorists could be regarded as an escalation.