The United States on Thursday announced sanctions against two of Yemen’s Houthi rebel commanders, who are leading an offensive to seize the last northern government stronghold of Marib.
Yemen’s civil war, which started in 2014, pits Iran-backed Houthi rebels against an internationally recognized government supported by a Saudi-led military coalition.
The Houthis launched in February a fierce offensive to seize Marib, capital of an oil-rich region, where heavy battles have exacerbated what the UN already calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking said sanctions were placed on Mohammed Abdul Kareem al-Ghamari, the Houthi’s Chief of the General Staff, who is leading the push to seize Marib, as well as Youssef al-Madani, another Houthi commander leading forces in the campaign.
“If there were no offensive, if there were a commitment to peace, if the parties are all showing up to deal constructively with the UN envoy, there would be no need for designations,” Lenderking told reporters in an online press briefing.
Lenderking said he regretted that the Houthis were absent during recent ceasefire talks. “The Houthis are not winning in Marib and, instead, they’re putting a great deal of stress on an already very fragile humanitarian situation,” he added.
Yemen’s long war has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions.
Marib lies about 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the rebel-held capital Sanaa. Along with its surrounding oil fields, it makes up the last significant pocket of government-held territory in the north, the rest of which is under rebel control.
In a statement US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that, in leading the attack on Marib, al-Ghamari put around one million already internally displaced civilians at deeper risk.
The Marib attack “threatens to overwhelm an already stretched humanitarian response, and is triggering broader escalation,” Blinken said.
Al-Madani was singled out for blacklisting as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” for what Blinken said was the “significant risk he poses of committing acts of terrorism” against US nationals and US interests.
“We call on the Houthis to immediately cease all attacks and military offensives, especially their offensive against Marib, which only causes more suffering for the Yemeni people,” Blinken said.