Jan. 11 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his plans to designate Yemen's Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization in the days before the Trump administration hands over control of the country to the incoming Biden administration.
Pompeo announced the State Department will notify Congress of his intent to designate the Houthis as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity as well as three of its leaders late Sunday in a statement.
"These designations will provide additional tools to confront terrorist activity and terrorism by Ansarallah, a deadly Iran-backed militia group in the gulf region," the United States' top diplomat said, referring to the Houthi group by its official name. "The designations are intended to hold Ansarallah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure and commercial shipping."
The Trump administration has been imposing sanctions targeting Iran since 2018 but has increased its efforts since President Donald Trump lost November's presidential election to President-elect Joe Biden.
Pompeo said in the statement that the designations, which are to go into effect Jan. 19, are intended to advance efforts to achieve a peaceful solution to the war in Yemen that sees the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
Since the war erupted in 2014, an estimated 4.3 million people have been displaced due to the conflict and some 24.1 million require some form of humanitarian support, according to the website of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The U.N. office has said the conflict has turned Yemen into "the world's worst humanitarian crisis" and it has resulted in nearly 250,000 war dead.
A reduction in U.N. relief operations, a failure to sustain support for Yemen's economy and locusts and floods destroying crops have exacerbated issues caused by the civil war, he said.
"I urge all those with influence to act urgently on these issues to stave off catastrophe and I also request that everyone avoids taking any action that could make the already dire situation even worse," he said.
Addressing concerns that the designations will hamper already stressed humanitarian activity in Yemen, Pompeo said the State Department and the treasury will put in place measures to reduce the black-listings' impacts on humanitarian support.
"We have expressed our readiness to work with relevant officials at the United Nations, with international and non-governmental organizations and other international donors to address these implications," he said, adding the treasury is prepared to provide licenses, including to NGOs, that will allow for certain activities to continued.
"We are working to ensure that essential lifelines and engagements that support a political track and return to dialogue continue to the maximum extent possible," Pompeo said.
The announcement came less than two weeks after a terrorist attack that has been blamed on the Houthis targeting an airport in the Yemen city of Aden killed 27 people.