Politics

Yemeni officials call for fresh efforts to curb Houthis' backers

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi

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A Yemeni man holds up pictures of Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi and Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Sanaa on October 29. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

ADEN -- Yemeni officials have called on the United States to intensify its efforts to track down operatives of Lebanese Hizbullah who are involved in supporting the Iran-backed Houthis both financially and militarily.

For close to three decades, Hizbullah has supported the Houthi movement, they said, contributing to the ongoing conflict and turmoil in Yemen and exacerbating the country's humanitarian crisis, now considered the worst in modern history.

The United States recently reiterated its offer of a $5 million reward in exchange for information about Khalil Yusif Harb, a Lebanese Hizbullah operative who contributed to smuggling large amounts of money to the Houthis in Yemen.

The US State Department's Rewards for Justice programme describes Harb -- who was listed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the US Treasury in August 2013 -- as a close adviser to Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah.

Harb plays a "key role in the operations" of Hizbullah, and served as its chief military liaison in a number of Middle Eastern countries, where he commanded and supervised the party's military operations, the programme said.

Since 2012, it said, Harb "has been involved in the movement of large amounts of currency to Hizbullah's political allies in Yemen".

'Hizbullah directs the war in Yemen'

"There is no doubt about Lebanese Hizbullah's role in supporting the Houthis and prolonging the war into its seventh year," Yemeni Deputy Minister of Justice Faisal al-Majeedi told Al-Mashareq.

He said Nasrallah has stated on more than one occasion that Hizbullah has fighters in Yemen, and that he himself wishes he "could go there and fight".

"Yemen calls on the United States to impose international sanctions on Hizbullah leaders for being directly involved in the Houthis' military operations and supporting them financially," al-Majeedi said.

"Hizbullah is directly responsible for the deteriorating situation in Yemen," he added, pointing out that it seems the Houthis intend to win Hizbullah's approval by sponsoring campaigns to collect donations for the party.

Houthi leaders have regularly visited the southern suburbs of Beirut, where they received training from Hizbullah and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) experts, al-Majeedi said.

"Hizbullah directs terrorist acts in Yemen," he said, noting that the party directly oversees the battle for Marib, where military officials on Thursday (September 2) said 65 combatants had been killed during a renewed Houthi offensive.

The Houthis attacked pro-government positions south of the strategic city, killing 22 pro-government fighters and wounding 50 others, making progress despite losing dozens of fighters in Arab coalition air strikes, AFP reported.

It was the Houthis' first major offensive on Marib since June, when 111 fighters on both sides died in three days of clashes.

The Houthis are engaged in a vicious effort to capture Marib, the last government stronghold in the country's oil-rich north, where they seek to gain control of oil and gas fields, a military official said Thursday.

This is a strategy pursued by Nasrallah and Iran's leader, Ali Khamenei.

Curtailing support to the Houthis

Hizbullah has financed the Houthi movement since its inception in the 1990s, through the six wars in which they battled then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, said Abaad Centre for Research and Studies director Abdulsalam Mohammad.

Saleh was slain by the Houthis on December 4, 2017, after publicly renouncing his party's alliance with the Iran-backed militia.

"Khalil Harb has overseen much of the financial and propaganda aspects of the wars, including during the pre-2011 period," Mohammad said.

He called on the United States to "track down Hizbullah leaders who contributed to the Yemen war, impose sanctions on them and restrict their movement".

The US efforts to track down operatives such as Harb and hold them to account will help curtail the financial and military support Hizbullah provides to the Houthis, political analyst Mahmoud al-Taher said.

He urged the United States to impose further sanctions on Hizbullah leaders who support the Houthis, noting that the latter is responsible for instigating the ongoing war.

The Iran-backed militia also is responsible for drawing out the war in Yemen, he added, pointing to the Houthis' continuing rejection of peace efforts, which he said "has created a humanitarian tragedy" for the Yemeni people.

According to the United Nations, more than two-thirds of the population in Yemen is now in need of humanitarian aid.

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