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In reversal, Biden may slap terror designation back on Yemen’s Houthis

President says possible action being considered as Saudis and Emiratis step up push to blacklist Iran-backed rebels following deadly missile and drone strike on UAE

Houthi fighters chant slogans as they take off to a battlefront following a gathering aimed at mobilizing more fighters for the Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen, August 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
Houthi fighters chant slogans as they take off to a battlefront following a gathering aimed at mobilizing more fighters for the Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen, August 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden says the US is considering restoring its designation of Yemen’s Houthis as a terrorist group.

Biden’s comment, made at a White House news conference Wednesday, came after a cross-border strike Monday that killed three people in the United Arab Emirates.

The Houthis, a former militia group that now controls much of Yemen, claimed responsibility for the attack, which Emiratis say used both missiles and drones, and started fires at a fuel depot and international airport.

The attack led Emiratis and Saudis to step up months of demands that the US restore its terrorist designation for the Houthis.

Biden lifted that designation shortly after taking office, as his administration worked without success to jump-start peace talks and wind down the eight-year war in Yemen.

Aid groups had complained that the terror designation, which limits interaction by US entities, complicated humanitarian work in the impoverished Gulf country of Yemen.

In this satellite image provided by Planet Labs PBC, smoke rises over an Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. fuel depot in the Mussafah neighborhood of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, January 17, 2022. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

Biden said Wednesday returning the terrorist designation was “under consideration.”

His defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, expressed solidarity for the UAE’s security in a conversation earlier Wednesday with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed.

The UAE was a member of the Saudi-led coalition that entered Yemen’s civil war in 2015, after the Houthis had overrun the capital of Sanaa the previous year and ousted the country’s president from power.

US President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. (AP/Susan Walsh)

The Houthis have used drones and missiles to attack Saudi Arabia and oil targets in the Persian Gulf over the course of Yemen’s war. Monday’s attack was the UAE’s first acknowledgement of being hit by the Houthis.

All sides in the war have been widely accused of abuses, including airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition that claimed civilian lives. The Biden administration early on announced the US would lessen its supporting role to the coalition, and provide Saudi Arabia only with defensive weapons.

The Saudi-led coalition intensified airstrikes on the Houthis across Yemen late Monday, including in Sanaa. At least 14 people, including a senior Houthi military official, were killed in one airstrike in Saana, the group said. The office of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said that there were five civilians among the dead.

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