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‘Reckless’ Houthi Red Sea campaign harming Yemenis, Palestinians – US special envoy

LONDON: Continuing Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea are “misplaced, reckless and indiscriminate,” the US special envoy for Yemen said on Wednesday during a briefing attended by Arab News.

Timothy Lenderking added that the Houthis’ activities are harming both ordinary Yemenis and Palestinians, who they claim to be acting in support of.

In a briefing from Muscat following a meeting with Omani Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Al-Busaidi, and having spent the previous day in Riyadh, Lenderking said Houthi attacks are preventing aid from reaching Palestinians, as well as disrupting global trade.

He added that as well as international shipping entering the Suez Canal, traffic at the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah is also being affected, down 15 percent this year, hindering the flow of essential goods into the country.

Lenderking said ongoing military activity in the region is disrupting local industries, especially fishing, which is having an additional impact on the local economy and is having a detrimental effect on wildlife.

“The Houthis claim to be helping the Palestinians but are hurting them,” he added. “We all want Yemen to be a source of stability for the region.”

Houthi attacks “must stop so we can direct our attention back to the (Yemeni) peace process and to turn our attention to Palestine and the two-state solution,” he said, adding that “Houthi recklessness” is being facilitated by Iran, which is “sowing instability across the region” and “continues to enable these attacks, providing weapons and (is a) leading sponsor of terrorism.”

Lenderking said both the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group and US strikes on their positions in Yemen are hampering their combat activities and fundraising, but insisted that the US, along with the likes of France and the UK, would prefer a diplomatic solution.

He said his meetings in Oman and Saudi Arabia are a demonstration of Washington’s “unshakeable” commitment to the Yemeni peace process, adding: “The US has been very clear that we seek de-escalation in the Red Sea, and that the Houthi attacks can’t continue.”

The Houthis “can still de-escalate and return to the peace process,” said Lenderking, who praised the Saudi role in mediating between the Houthis and the internationally recognized Yemeni government.

“I continue to meet with a broad range of officials and other Yemeni officials in Riyadh,” he said. “I think all of these consultations are extremely important in narrowing the differences that may exist between the conflicting parties.”

He added: “The fact that Saudi Arabia and the Houthis have been able to make progress, Saudi Arabia mediating between the Houthis and Yemeni government … gives us some hope that we can use this moment to get beyond … this nine-year civil war.”

Lenderking warned, though, that action would be required on the part of the Houthis to regain the trust of the international community.

“Unfortunately, these attacks against international shipping have undermined the credibility of the Houthis as a good-faith actor,” he said, calling on them to release the 25 crew members of the Galaxy Leader ship, abducted in November last year, which had “no connection with Israel.”

Lenderking added that the international community should not let the Gaza conflict stunt the peace process in Yemen. 

He defended America’s “longstanding commitment to Israel’s security,” but added: “That, of course, doesn’t mean rampant attacks on civilians, which the US has called out.”

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