US, UK bomb Houthi sites in Yemen amid surge in Red Sea ship attacks

US and UK forces hit 18 Houthi targets, including underground weapons and missile storage facilities, officials say.

A mock missile is carried by university students during a rally to show support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the recent Houthi strikes on ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, in Sanaa, Yemen January 31, 2024.
University students in Sanaa carry a mock missile during a rally to show support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as well as attacks by the Houthis on ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden [File: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

The United States and the United Kingdom have bombed more than a dozen Houthi sites in Yemen, officials said, as the Yemeni rebel group stepped up its attacks on ships in the Red Sea in protest against Israel’s war on Gaza.

In a joint statement on Saturday, the US and the UK said their military action hit 18 Houthi sites across eight locations in Yemen, including attacks on underground weapons and missile storage facilities, air defence systems, radars and a helicopter.

The operation marked the fourth time that the US and UK militaries have carried out joint attacks against the Houthis since January 12.

Apart from the joint action, the US has also been carrying out almost daily raids to take out Houthi targets, including incoming missiles, rockets and drones targeting commercial and other navy vessels.

The raids, however, have so far failed to halt the Houthi attacks, which have upset global trade and raised shipping rates.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the latest wave of strikes was meant “to further disrupt and degrade the capabilities of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia”.

“We will continue to make clear to the Houthis that they will bear the consequences if they do not stop their illegal attacks, which harm Middle Eastern economies, cause environmental damage and disrupt the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen and other countries,” he added.

The attacks were supported by Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

The Houthis responded with defiance.

Yahya Saree, a spokesperson for the group, pledged that the Houthis would “confront the American-British escalation with more qualitative military operations against all hostile targets in the Red and Arab Seas”.

The Houthis will “persist in upholding their religious, moral and humanitarian duties towards the Palestinian people, and their military operations will not stop unless the aggression stops and the siege on the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip is lifted”, he added.

According to a tally by The Associated Press news agency, the Houthis have launched at least 57 attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since November 19.

And the pace of attacks has picked up in recent days.

Another Houthi spokesperson claimed an attack on MV Torm Thor, a US-flagged, owned and operated chemical and oil tanker, on Saturday, saying the group targeted the vessel using a “number of appropriate naval missiles”.

The US Central Command confirmed the attack, saying its forces downed an antiship ballistic missile launched from Houthi-held areas in Yemen towards the Gulf of Aden, adding that the missile was likely targeting Torm Thor.

The tanker was not damaged and there were no injuries, it said.

British maritime security agency UKMTO also reported another attack on an unspecified ship near the port of Djibouti on Saturday night, saying there had been an “explosion in close proximity to the vessel, no damage is reported to the vessel and there are no injuries to the crew”.

“Vessel is proceeding to next port of call,” it added in a bulletin.

The Houthis meanwhile claimed responsibility for an attack on a UK-owned cargo ship and a drone assault on a US destroyer last week and said they also targeted Israel’s port and resort city of Eilat with ballistic missiles and drones.

No ships have been sunk nor crew killed during the Houthi campaign.

However, there are concerns about the fate of the UK-registered Rubymar cargo vessel, which was struck on February 18 and its crew evacuated. The US military has said the Rubymar was carrying more than 41,000 tonnes of fertiliser when it was hit, which could spill into the Red Sea and cause an environmental disaster.

The turmoil from Israel’s war on Gaza has also spilled over to other parts of the Middle East.

Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group has traded fire with Israel along the Israel-Lebanon border and pro-Iran Iraqi militia have attacked bases that host US forces.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies