Western allies warn Yemeni Houthi rebels over Red Sea attacks

A group of Western countries have threatened to take military action against Yemeni rebels who have been launching attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea.

A group of 12 countries, mostly from the West, have issued a stern warning to Yemeni rebels who have been attacking commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

The US, UK, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, and New Zealand said in a joint statement that they would not tolerate the continued assaults by the Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran.

The Houthis have expressed solidarity with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that started a war with Israel in October.

The rebels have launched more than 20 attacks on shipping in the Red Sea since November, using various weapons such as missiles, drones, fast boats, and helicopters.

They have often falsely claimed that the targeted ships had ties to Israel.

Some missiles have been intercepted by US and British naval forces in the area, but they have refrained from striking back at the rebels in Yemen. That could soon change.

The group of 12 countries denounced the Houthi attacks as “illegal, unacceptable, and profoundly destabilising” and said they had “no lawful justification for intentionally targeting civilian shipping and naval vessels”.

They warned the rebels that they would “bear the consequences” if they persisted in their attacks, which is widely seen as a sign of possible military action against the rebels’ missile sites and launch pads in Yemen.

The group of countries also demanded an “immediate end” to the attacks, which they said threatened “freedom of navigation” in the vital waterway that carries nearly 15% of global trade.

They expressed concern that the attacks could disrupt fuel prices and supply chains.

The International Chamber of Shipping says that 20% of the world’s container ships are now avoiding the Red Sea and taking a longer route around southern Africa.

The Houthi attacks were unanimously condemned at a UN Security Council debate on Wednesday night, but some also cautioned against further escalation.

The US envoy to the UN for management and reform, Chris Lu, said the attacks had “grave implications for maritime security, international shipping and commerce”.

He blamed Iran for being “the root of the problem”. “Iran has long enabled these attacks by the Houthis,” he said.

Iran has denied any involvement in the attacks. However, it is uncertain how it would react if Western air strikes hit its allies in Yemen.

The Houthis are aiming at ships passing through the Bab al-Mandab Strait, also known as the Gate of Tears, which is a narrow and dangerous channel, 20 miles (32km) wide.

The rebels belong to a branch of Yemen’s Shia Muslim minority, the Zaidis. They are named after their founder, Hussein al Houthi.

They have been waging a civil war since 2014 against Yemen’s government and have seized control of the capital Sana’a, the north of the country, and the Red Sea coast.

The government has been supported by a coalition of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

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