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SANAA: Yemen's Huthis were defiant Monday after the United States said it will designate the Iran-backed rebels as terrorists, a last-ditch move under President Donald Trump that aid groups warned could tip the country into famine.

Unless Congress blocks the decision, the Huthis will be blacklisted on January 19 - one day before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, whose aides had hoped to mount a fresh push to end Yemen's devastating six-year-old war.

Huthi political commander Mohamed Ali al-Huthi condemned the US move in a tweet and said they had "the right to respond".

"The Yemeni people don't care about any designation from Trump's administration, as it is a partner in killing Yemenis and starving them."

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh also condemned the US announcement and charged that "it's likely the bankrupt US government will do further damage to its reputation" in Trump's final days in office. The decision announced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could complicate Biden's promised efforts to restart diplomacy with Iran and to reassess Washington's alliance with Saudi Arabia, which has led a bloody offensive in its impoverished southern neighbour.

The designation aims to hold the rebel movement "accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure and commercial shipping," Pompeo said Sunday.

The Huthis have "led a brutal campaign that has killed many people, continues to destabilise the region and denies Yemenis a peaceful solution to the conflict in their country".

The Yemeni government said the Huthis deserved the designation for "continuous efforts to prolong the conflict and cause the world's worst humanitarian crisis", while Riyadh said the move would help put "an end to the activities" of the rebels.

Pompeo also designated as terrorists three leaders of the movement, including their chief Abdul Malik al-Huthi.

He pointed to a December 30 attack on an airport in Yemen's second city Aden, which killed 26 people and was blamed by the Saudi-backed government on the Huthis.