UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council stepped up efforts Tuesday to thwart a Houthi rebel takeover of Yemen, imposing an arms embargo on the leaders of the Shiite group, along with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his son.
Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, has been pushed to the brink of collapse by ground fighting and Saudi-led airstrikes in support of current President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia. Observers say the fighting in the strategic Mideast nation is taking on the appearance of a proxy war between Iran, the Shiite powerhouse backing the Houthis, and Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia.
The arms embargo was approved in a 14-0 vote, with Russia abstaining. Moscow had insisted on an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict.
The resolution imposes the weapons embargo on five men: Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, second-in-command Abdullah Yahya al Hakim, military commander Abd al-Khaliq al-Huthi, Saleh and his eldest son, Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh. The former president and his son are key supporters of the Houthi group.
The council called on all countries, especially Yemen's neighbors, to inspect cargo headed to Yemen if there are "reasonable grounds" to believe it contains weapons.
In addition, the council imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on the Houthi leader and Saleh's son. The same sanctions had already been imposed on the other three men last November.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the Houthis ignored a council resolution in February that had warned of further measures if they failed to cease their aggression.
Lyall Grant stressed that a political solution is the only solution and the best way to counter the threat from terrorist groups in Yemen such as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, considered by the U.S. to be the world's most dangerous branch of the terror network.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the new sanctions show "that this council will take action against those who continue to undermine efforts toward reconciliation."
The resolution demands that all Yemeni parties, especially the Houthis, end violence and return swiftly to U.N.-led peace talks aimed at a political transition. It makes no mention of the Saudi-led airstrikes.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin complained that the resolution did not require all sides to the conflict "to swiftly halt fire." And he said a comprehensive arms embargo is essential, stressing that "Yemen is awash in weapons."
Several diplomats questioned whether the arms embargo would have any impact on the conflict. Iran has reportedly been the main supplier of weapons to the Houthis, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The resolution demands that the Houthis withdraw from areas they have seized, including the capital of Sanaa, relinquish arms and missiles seized from military and security institutions, and release the defense minister and all political prisoners.
The council asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to intensify efforts to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate foreigners, including establishing "humanitarian pauses" in coordination with the government of Yemen. It called on all parties to facilitate the aid delivery and evacuation of foreigners.
Churkin complained that the resolution didn't meet Russia's demand for "regular and obligatory" humanitarian pauses.
The council threatened further sanctions if any Yemeni party fails to implement the provisions of the resolution.