By ELLEN KNICKMEYER and FATIMA HUSSEIN
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States on Wednesday announced sanctions against what it said were members of an international financing network for Yemen’s Houthi rebels after the Iran-backed group recently escalated cross-border drone and missile attacks on its oil-rich Gulf neighbors .
The penalties from the Treasury Department appeared to fall short of the tougher measures that the Saudis and Emiratis, key strategic partners of the U.S., had sought from the Biden administration. U.S. officials have been in talks with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as the crisis in Ukraine worsens high petroleum prices and a supply shortfall.
The sanctions are aimed at a source of the rebel group’s financial support, targeting shipping companies and other businesses that the U.S. says smuggles petroleum and other commodities around the Middle East, Asia and Africa to fund the Houthis.
The Houthis seized control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and much of the rest of the north of the Arabian Peninsula nation in 2014. A Saudi-led military coalition entered the war the next year in a so-far unsuccessful fight against the rebels.
The Houthis have resisted Biden administration attempts to get them into peace talks and have escalated sporadic air attacks into Saudi Arabia and the UAE instead. U.S. forces in the UAE have fired back with Patriot missile batteries to help repel air attacks.
President Joe Biden said last month that the United States was considering redesignating the Houthis and Houthi leaders as terrorists, a step that typically carries harsh U.S. government penalties for those doing business with them.
The Trump administration imposed that designation in its last days. The Biden administration lifted it as one of its first acts as aid groups said the penalties would scare away commercial food suppliers and humanitarian efforts in an already chronically hungry country. An estimated 80% of Yemen’s people live in territory under Houthi control.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and some Americans argue that reinstating the terrorist designation could deter the Houthis.
Humanitarian agencies and some Democrats in Congress say the opposite. They contend that the financial measures that come with such a designation would likely have little impact on the already isolated Houthis but have devastating impacts on ordinary Yemenis already struggling to buy food and fuel.
FILE – Armed Houthi fighters attend the funeral procession of Houthi rebel fighters who were killed in recent fighting with forces of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, in Sanaa, Yemen, on Nov. 24, 2021. A clan-based militia government in the Arab world’s poorest country is presenting the Biden administration with its latest foreign policy frustrations. Yemen’s Houthis have launched three cross-border strikes with drones and ballistic missiles into the United Arab Emirates in as many weeks. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)