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US hits Iran IRGC with sanctions over support of Yemen's Houthis

Iranian army officials accused of providing support to Yemen's Houthis in launching attacks on US-allied Saudi Arabia.

The United States has imposed new sanctions against officials of Iran's Revolutionary Guard for allegedly providing ballistic missile-related expertise to armed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The actions of five Iranians have enabled the Houthis to launch missiles at cities and oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, the US Department of Treasury said in a statement on Tuesday.

"The United States will not tolerate Iranian support for Houthi rebels who are attacking our close partner, Saudi Arabia," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

The US said units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) supported efforts "to improve the Houthis' ballistic missile capabilities". 

Among those being targeted by the sanctions are two individuals the US identified as senior officials of the IRGC, a branch of Iran's armed forces that report directly to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Mahmud Bagheri Kazemabad is identified as the commander of an IRGC aerospace unit involved with missile command, while Agha Jaafari is named as a senior official of the same unit.

They allegedly oversee the "transfer of missile components and the deployment of ballistic missile specialists" across the Middle East region in support of the IRGC's activities. 

One other IRGC official and two individuals were also listed in the sanctions. 

As a result of the sanctions, assets that the individuals may hold in US jurisdictions are ordered frozen, and persons found to have provided material and financial support to those individuals could also face similar sanctions.

'Saudi war crimes' in Yemen

The latest sanctions follow a recent US move designating two top officials of Central Bank of Iran as "terrorists", for their alleged role in funneling "millions of dollars" in funding from the IRGC to the group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The US has been putting financial pressure on Iran, following US President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a new policy towards Iran, declaring that unless Iran complies with American demands, it faces "the strongest sanctions in history" and "unprecedented financial pressure" from Washington, DC.

Ending military support for the Houthis in Yemen is one of the 12 demands Pompeo listed in his Iran policy speech.   

The US has also accused Iran of "exporting terrorism" throughout the region, including backing the armed Houthis in Yemen.

Yemen, the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country, has been wracked by violence since the Houthis overran Sanaa in September 2014, and forced the Saudi Arabia-backed government out of the capital.

The conflict escalated in March 2015 after Saudi Arabia led a coalition in launching a massive bombing campaign aimed at rolling back their advances.

Since then, the Saudis have carried out more than 16,000 air raids, resulting in mass civilian casualties with weddings, hospitals and funerals targeted.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in the raids, and more than 100,000 children are estimated to have died from preventable disease.

In an interview, Ro Khanna, a member of the US House of Representatives has accused the US of helping Saudi Arabia commit "war crimes" in Yemen.

The UN has also accused Saudi Arabia of rights abuses in Yemen, and the international organisation's top human rights official, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, had called for an independent inquiry into atrocities in the country for three years, before the international community agreed in 2017.

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