U.N. imposes arms embargo targeting Yemen Houthis; Russia abstains

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council on Tuesday imposed an arms embargo targeting the Iran-allied Houthi rebels who rule most of the country and blacklisted the son of Yemen’s former president and a Houthi leader after veto-power Russia abstained.

The Security Council adopted the resolution - drafted by council member Jordan and Gulf Arab states - with 14 votes in favor, but after weeks of negotiations Russia abstained, saying some of its proposals were not included.

“The co-sponsors refused to include the requirements insisted upon by Russia addressed to all sides to the conflict to swiftly halt fire and to begin peace talks,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council after the vote.

Saudi Arabia launched air strikes against the Iran-allied Houthis in neighboring Yemen last month with a coalition made up mainly of four Gulf Arab allies. The United States said last week it is speeding up arms shipments to the coalition.

“We insisted that the arms embargo needs to be comprehensive; it’s well-known that Yemen is awash in weapons,” Churkin added. “The adopted resolution should not be used for further escalation of the armed conflict.”

Iran on Monday urged the formation of a new Yemeni government and offered to assist in a political transition.

The Security Council also imposed a global asset freeze and travel ban on Ahmed Saleh, the former head of Yemen’s elite Republican Guard, as well as on Abdulmalik al-Houthi, a top leader of the Shi’ite Houthi group.

Saleh’s father, former Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and two other senior Houthi leaders, Abd al-Khaliq al-Huthi and Abdullah Yahya al Hakim, were blacklisted by the Council in November. Yemeni soldiers loyal to the former president are fighting alongside the Houthis.

The resolution imposed an arms embargo on the five men and “those acting on their behalf or at their direction in Yemen” - effectively the Houthi and soldiers loyal to Saleh.

It also demands the Houthis stop fighting and withdraw from areas they have seized, including Sanaa, the capital. It also expressed concern at “destabilizing actions” taken by former President Saleh, “including supporting the Houthis’ actions.”

Russia put forward its own draft resolution earlier this month demanding “regular and obligatory humanitarian pauses in the air strikes” to allow for the evacuation of foreigners.

The resolution adopted on Tuesday requests U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “intensify his efforts in order to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and evacuation, including the establishment of humanitarian pauses, as appropriate, in coordination with the government of Yemen.”

Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau; editing by Dan Grebler and G Crosse