The U.S. State Department is calling on Houthi rebels in Yemen to vacate a U.S. compound they breached in the capital, Sanaa, this week and release detained Yemeni nationals hired by the United States to guard the facility.
The compound had housed the U.S. Embassy until 2015, when the U.S. suspended operations there because of the ongoing Yemen civil war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the Saudi-supported government. The U.S. moved its ambassador and key staff to Saudi Arabia.
A State Department spokesman speaking on background told reporters Thursday a “majority” of embassy staff who had been detained have been released and that Washington was engaging in “unceasing” diplomatic efforts to free the security guards still in custody. It is not clear how many Yemeni employees were detained or why.
The State Department also demanded the rebels vacate the facility and return any seized property.
At a State Department briefing earlier this week, spokesman Ned Price said the department “is committed to ensuring the safety of those who serve the U.S. government overseas, and that is why we are so actively engaged on this matter, including through our international partners.”
The Houthis have controlled Sana’a and much of the country’s north for years. Saudi Arabia is staunchly opposed to the Houthi forces and launched a military intervention in Yemen in 2015, ostensibly seeking to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government to power. The Saudis and their allies are also seeking to prevent Iran from expanding its influence.
The U.N. has said the civil war has created the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.