Houthis say they will target Israel-bound ships anywhere within their range

The Yemeni group says it is expanding its attacks in response to the looming Israeli assault on Rafah in southern Gaza.

Houthis' military spokesman Yahya Saree
The Houthis have launched repeated drone and missile attacks on ships in what they say is a campaign of solidarity with Palestinians [File: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

Yemen’s Houthis will target ships heading to Israeli ports in any area within their range, the group’s military spokesperson Yahya Saree has said in a televised speech.

“We will target any ships heading to Israeli ports in the Mediterranean Sea in any area we are able to reach,” Saree said on Friday, adding that the decision will be implemented “immediately, and from the moment this statement is announced”.

The Iran-aligned Houthis have launched repeated drone and missile attacks on ships in the crucial shipping channels of the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandab strait and the Gulf of Aden since November in what they say is a campaign of solidarity with Palestinians and against Israel’s assault on Gaza.

This has forced shipping firms to re-route cargo to longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa and has stoked fears that the Israeli war on Gaza could spread and destabilise the region.

In his speech, Saree also cited a looming “aggressive military operation” in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than 1.5 million Palestinians are now sheltering, as a reason behind the group’s decision.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to send ground troops into Rafah, which is already being bombarded on a daily basis. The potential Israeli ground offensive has sparked an international outcry and calls on the Israeli government to halt its plans.

Netanyahu said a Rafah operation will take place whether or not Israel and Hamas agree on a ceasefire deal.

A Hamas delegation is set to visit Egypt in the coming days for further indirect ceasefire talks with the objective of “ending the aggression against” people in Gaza, according to a statement by the Palestinian group.

There have been significant sticking points in negotiations. Hamas has repeatedly said it would not accept a deal that does not guarantee a permanent ceasefire, a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, and the unhindered return of displaced families to their homes.

But an Israeli proposal includes a halt in fighting for 40 days and the exchange of dozens of Israeli captives for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Saree, the Houthi spokesperson, said the inability to reach a permanent ceasefire is another reason for the Houthis’ decision to target ships heading to Israeli ports.

“The Yemeni armed forces … will not hesitate to prepare for broader and stronger stages of escalation until the aggression is stopped and the siege on the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip is lifted,” he said.

Since October 7, Israeli forces have killed at least 34,622 Palestinians, destroyed much of the besieged enclave, forced some 1.7 million people from their homes, and pushed northern Gaza to the brink of famine.

A United States-led military coalition has been bombing Houthi targets since January, but the Yemeni group has continued its attacks on shipping lanes in the Red Sea.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies