Houthi rebels launch their biggest assault yet on Red Sea shipping

A coordinated large escale assault by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on international shipping in the Red Sea was successfully repelled by UK and US naval forces, the UK defence secretary announced.

The largest attack yet by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on shipping in the Red Sea was thwarted by UK and US naval forces, according to the UK defence secretary.

The rebels, who are purportedly supported by Iran, fired at least 21 drones and missiles during the night, the US military said.Carrier-based planes and four warships intercepted them, it added.

There were no reports of injuries or damage.The Houthis have not responded, but they have previously targeted ships in relation to the conflict in the Gaza Strip.They have alleged – often without evidence – that the ships had ties to Israel.The US military’s Central Command said it was the 26th attack since 19 November.

Around 21:15 local time (18:15 GMT), the rebels launched Iranian-made one-way attack drones, anti-ship cruise missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles from areas under their control in Yemen towards international shipping lanes in the southern Red Sea, it added.

F/A-18 planes from the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower, which is stationed in the Red Sea, and four destroyers, the USS Gravely, USS Laboon, USS Mason and HMS Diamond, shot down 18 drones, two cruise missiles and one ballistic missile.

HMS Diamond destroyed seven Houthi drones using its Sea Viper missiles and guns, a British defence source told the BBC. Each missile costs more than £1m ($1.3m).

“The UK and its allies have already stated that these unlawful attacks are totally unacceptable and the Houthis will face the consequences if they continue,” UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement. “We will take the necessary action to protect innocent lives and the global economy,” he added.

A week ago, the US, UK and 10 other countries – including Germany, Italy, Australia, Bahrain and Japan – issued a joint statement that was seen as a warning of military action against Houthi targets in Yemen, such as where missiles are kept and launched. They said the attacks were “a direct threat to the freedom of navigation that is the foundation of global trade in one of the world’s most vital waterways”.

Nearly 15% of global seaborne trade goes through the Red Sea, which connects the Mediterranean and the Suez canal and is the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia. The concern is that fuel prices will increase and supply chains will be disrupted.

The International Chamber of Shipping says 20% of the world’s container ships are now bypassing the Red Sea and using the much longer route around the southern tip of Africa instead. The Houthis say they have been targeting ships owned by or bound for Israel to show their solidarity with the Palestinian group Hamas since the war in Gaza began in October.

On Friday, the foreign ministry of the Houthi-run government in Sanaa dismissed the Western allies’ statement and claimed navigation was “totally safe” in the Red Sea “except for ships headed for ports in occupied Palestine”. “This is a humanitarian measure in response to the brutal acts committed by the Zionist entity [Israel] against civilians in Gaza,” it said, adding that the position would not change “until the end of the cruel siege” of the Palestinian territory.

The Houthis, formally known as the Ansar Allah (Partisans of God), started as a movement that defended Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority. In the early 2000s, they waged a series of rebellions against the Yemeni government to seek more autonomy for their northern stronghold on the border with Saudi Arabia. In 2014, the Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa.

They captured large parts of western Yemen the next year, leading to a Saudi-led coalition intervening to support the internationally-recognised Yemeni government. The resulting war has reportedly killed more than 150,000 people and left 21 million others in need of humanitarian aid.

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