The sanctions target the head of the general staff leading the offensive in Marib and another prominent Houthi leader.
The United States is imposing sanctions on two Houthi military officials leading the movement’s offensive to seize Yemen’s gas-rich Marib region, the US special envoy on Yemen has said.
Tim Lenderking, who has been pushing for a ceasefire between the Houthis and a Saudi-led military coalition, also told a virtual media briefing on Thursday that all ports and airports in Yemen should be opened to ease a humanitarian crisis.
“The Houthis are not winning in Marib. Instead, they are putting a great deal of stress on an already very fragile humanitarian situation, they are putting the lives of one million internally displaced people … in danger,” Lenderking said.
Saudi Arabia had proposed a nationwide ceasefire in March, as well as the reopening of air and sea links to bolster efforts to end the conflict.
But the initiative has been stuck since the Houthis made a series of counter-proposals, including fully lifting the coalition’s blockade before any truce deal.
Lenderking said the US would on Thursday impose sanctions on the head of the general staff leading the Houthi offensive in Marib, Mohamad Abdulkarim al-Gamali, and on a prominent leader of Houthi forces assigned to the advance on Marib, Yousuf al-Madani.
“If there were no offensive, if there were commitment to peace, if the parties are all showing up to deal constructively with the UN envoy there would be no need for designations,” Lenderking said.
Last month, the envoy accused Iran of supporting the Houthis in the conflict, providing “lethal” support and helping the group hone its drone and missile programmes. Tehran has denied supporting the movement and dismissed the allegations at the time.
Lenderking welcomed direct talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran as constructive but said he has not yet seen positive Iranian engagement towards ending the conflict in Yemen, which has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions to the brink of famine.
“I do think this is potentially a constructive engagement and we wish both parties success because it will be not only good for overall tensions in the region but there should be positive impact on the Yemen conflict, in particular,” Lenderking said.
He called on Tehran to support peace talks and said Washington wants a long-term solution that goes beyond a ceasefire, which the envoy said was the only way Yemenis would get the humanitarian relief they require.
Last week, the UN Security Council called for an immediate halt to fighting in Yemen, saying that only a lasting ceasefire and political settlement can end the more-than-six-year conflict.
The council singled out the military escalation by the Houthis in Marib.
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the council that about 25,000 people have fled the fighting in Marib, many for the second or third time. If the fighting does not stop, he said, “aid agencies fear up to 385,000 people could be displaced in the coming months.”
Displaced people in Marib are living in fear for their lives, he said, “and the offensive has been until now constantly disrupting peace efforts,” Lowcock said.
He also warned that “famine is still stalking the country, with five million people just a step away from starving,” and COVID-19 cases are still surging, “pushing the health care system to collapse”. Famine, disease and other miseries are the result of the war and that is why “it is so important to stop the fighting,” he said.