Houthi supporters shout slogans and hold up guns during a rally against the Saudi-led war and blockade imposed on Yemen, in Sanaa, on August 8. On Friday, the United States sanctioned a Houthi leader. File Photo by Yahya Arhab/EPA-EFE
Nov. 19 (UPI) -- The U.S. government sanctioned a Houthi military leader for threatening the peace and stability of Yemen, the State Department announced Friday.
The sanctions targeted Saleh Mesfer Alshaer, a commander of the Houthi-controlled military logistics organization.
The State Department said Alshaer heads the Iranian-backed Houthi judicial guard and is a key figure in the group's efforts to seize assets from their opposition -- namely the Saudi-backed government of Yemeni President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Alshaer serves as the custodian of the assets.
"Alshaer's associates have appropriated more than half the revenues from multiple hospitals in Sanaa, exacerbating Yemen's dire health crisis," the State Department said in a statement. "Alshaer also serves as a senior officer and commander of the logistics support authority for the Houthi forces, and he has assisted the Houthis in acquiring smuggled weapons.
"This action is a message to the people of Yemen that the United States stands with them. We will not relent in targeting those who are perpetuating the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and seeking to profit from the suffering of the Yemeni people."
The designation comes nine months after President Joe Biden announced he was ending U.S. support for offensive military operations in Yemen. The United States supported Saudi-led operations in the country, which fought on behalf of Hadi against Houthi forces, supported by Iran. The Houthi rebels and the Hadi administration have been locked in a civil war since 2014, when the former took control of the capital of Sanaa.
The United States also revoked its terrorist designation for Houthi rebels Feb. 12 in response to humanitarian groups' warnings that such a label and sanctions against the group could prevent civilians from accessing basic needs such as food and fuel.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. government "remains clear-eyed" regarding the rebels' "malign" actions, including the capture of much of western Yemen, including the capital of Sanaa, forcing Hadi to flee to the port city of Aden. About 80% of Yemen's population live in the Houthi-controlled area.
On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill to prevent the State Department from completing a $650 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia. The lawmakers have taken issue with the kingdom's involvement in the Yemeni civil war, including its fuel blockade, which has prevented food and water from getting into the country.