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Houthi rebels say that US and British interests were 'legitimate targets' after air strikes

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan today said the US and UK wanted to turn Red Sea into a ‘bloodbath’.

LAST UPDATE | 24 hrs ago

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YEMEN’S IRAN-BACKED Houthis have said that US and British interests were “legitimate targets” after they launched deadly strikes against the rebels following weeks of disruptive attacks on Red Sea shipping.

The barrage of strikes early this morning against the Houthis, who say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, stoked fears of the Israel-Hamas war spilling over across the region.

Britain, the United States and eight allies said the strikes aimed to “de-escalate tensions”. But Iran and other governments condemned the Western action or warned that unrest could worsen.

The rebel forces said this morning that the strikes have killed at least five people, and left six others wounded in the country, which is located on the south of the Arabian Peninsula.

Hamas said it will hold Britain and the United States “responsible for the repercussions on regional security.”

US officials said last night the military targets included logistical hubs, air defence systems and weapons storage locations.

The strikes marked the first US military response against the Houthis for what has been a persistent campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Oil prices rose 4% on news of the strikes before falling back. Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB bank, cited market fears that “the region is on an unpredictable escalating path”.

Some 12% of global maritime trade normally passes through the Red Sea, but since mid-November the volume of shipping containers has dropped by 70%, according to maritime experts.

Major shipping firms have rerouted their cargoes around the tip of Africa, hitting trade flows at a time when supply strains are putting upward pressure on inflation worldwide.

US President Joe Biden overnight called the American and British strikes a “defensive action” after the Red Sea attacks and said he “will not hesitate” to order further military action if needed.

The strikes involved fighter jets and Tomahawk missiles, the US Air Forces Central Command said in a statement. Sixty targets at 16 Houthi locations were hit by more than 100 precision-guided munitions, it said.

“Today, at my direction, US military forces – together with the United Kingdom and with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands – successfully conducted strikes against a number of targets in Yemen used by Houthi rebels to endanger freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most vital waterways,” Biden said in a statement.

Unverified images on social media, some of them purportedly of Al-Dailami airbase north of Sanaa, showed explosions lighting up the sky as loud bangs and the roar of planes sounded.

Biden called the strikes a “direct response” to the “unprecedented” attacks by the Houthis, “including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history”.

“The raids led to the death of five martyrs and the injury of six others from our armed forces,” Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree wrote on X.

On Tuesday the Houthi rebels fired their largest-ever barrage of drones and missiles targeting shipping in the Red Sea, with US and British ships and American fighter jets responding by shooting down 18 drones, two cruise missiles and an anti-ship missile.

Yesterday, the Houthis fired an anti-ship ballistic missile into the Gulf of Aden, which was seen by a commercial ship but did not hit it.

“These attacks have endangered US personnel, civilian mariners, and our partners, jeopardized trade, and threatened freedom of navigation,” Biden said.

Blaming the Houthis for ignoring “repeated warnings”, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement the strikes were “necessary and proportionate”.

The White House and a host of partner nations issued a final warning to the Houthis to cease the attacks or face potential military action.

The warning appeared to have had at least some short-lived impact, as attacks stopped for several days.

However, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said yesterday’s strikes “targeted sites associated with the Houthis’ unmanned aerial vehicle, ballistic and cruise missile, and coastal radar and air surveillance capabilities”.

A joint statement by the United States, Britain, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and South Korea said the “aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea”.

“But let our message be clear: we will not hesitate to defend lives and protect the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways in the face of continued threats,” it said.

The Houthis have said there was “no justification” for the air strikes and warned that attacks on Israel-linked shipping would continue.

“We affirm that there is absolutely no justification for this aggression against Yemen, as there was no threat to international navigation in the Red and Arabian Seas, and the targeting was and will continue to affect Israeli ships or those heading to the ports of occupied Palestine,” Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Palestinian militant group Hamas – whom Israel is fighting to destroy in Gaza – warned that there would be “repercussions” for the strikes against the Houthis, who they consider allies.

“We vigorously condemn the flagrant American-British attack on Yemen. We hold them responsible for the repercussions on regional security,” the group said on Telegram.

International reaction

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan today said US and British strikes on Yemen’s Huthis were “disproportionate”, alleging the US and Britain wanted to turn Red Sea into a “bloodbath”.

“First of all, they are not proportional. All of these constitute disproportionate use of force,” Erdogan told journalists after Friday prayers in Istanbul.

“It is as if they aspire to turn the Red Sea into a bloodbath.”

Erdogan said his government had received news from various channels that the Huthis were conducting “successful defence and gave successful answers both to the US and Britain”.

This morning, China called for all sides to prevent the Yemen conflict from expanding, after strikes by the United States and United Kingdom on Houthi rebel targets.

“China is concerned about the escalation of tensions in the Red Sea,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said.

“We urge the relevant parties to keep calm and exercise restraint, to prevent the conflict from expanding,” they added.

Yemen’s neighbour Saudi Arabia, which is trying to end its involvement in a nine-year war with the Houthis, urged against escalation.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is following with great concern the military operations,” a foreign ministry statement said, calling for “self-restraint and avoiding escalation”.

The Western strikes could risk turning an already-tense situation in the Middle East into a wider conflagration pitting the United States and Israel against Iran and its regional proxies.

Russia condemned strikes by the United States and Britain as an “escalation” with “destructive objectives”.

“The US strikes on Yemen are a new example of disinformation by the Anglo-Saxons… and a total violation of international law aimed at an escalation in the region to attain their destructive objectives,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said on Telegram.

Iran, who support the Houthi rebel movement directly, lambasted the strikes in Yemen.

The country said that the attacks against rebels were “arbitrary” and a “violation” of international law.

A Iranian foreign ministry person said that Tehran “strongly condemned the military attacks of the United States and the United Kingdom this morning on several Yemeni cities”.

He said the strikes were “an arbitrary action, a clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yemen, and a violation of international laws and regulations.”

The Houthi rebels say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in response to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza after the 7 October attack, and have launched a series of drones and missiles towards Israel.

Israel has also been facing cross-border fire along its northern frontier from Iran-backed militants in Syria and Lebanon – particularly the Hamas-aligned Hezbollah – and has responded with strikes of its own in both countries.

US and allied forces in Iraq and Syria have also faced stepped-up attacks since the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza, with Washington responding to several by bombing the sites of pro-Iran groups.

The rebels, who have carried out 27 attacks involving dozens of drones and missiles since 19 November 2023, said on Thursday that any attack by American forces on its sites in Yemen will spark a fierce military response.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2024

Press Association