The United States plans to designate Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, secretary of state Mike Pompeo said on Sunday.

The decision to blacklist the group comes as the administration of president-elect Joe Biden prepares to take over from the Trump administration on January 20.

Aid groups worry the move could threaten peace talks and complicate efforts to combat the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

“The Department of State will notify Congress of my intent to designate Ansar Allah, sometimes referred to as the Houthis, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization,” Pompeo said, and added:  “I also intend to designate three of Ansar Allah’s leaders, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi, and Abdullah Yahya al Hakim, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists”.

Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, has been torn by conflict since 2014, when Houthi rebels seized the capital and ousted the government of president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Fatal diseases are common in the country because of poverty. The war has killed more than 100,000 people and left millions suffering from food and medical shortages. The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Pompeo said the US planned to put in place measures to reduce the impact of the step on humanitarian activity and imports into Yemen, where 80% of the population needs help.

The foreign ministry of Yemen’s Saudi-backed government supported the designation and called for further “political and legal pressure” on the Houthis.


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