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Israel-Palestine war: Yemen's Houthis claim attacks on Red Sea ships over war in Gaza

Houthi rebels claim two ships targeted on Sunday were 'Israeli' while Washington says it's aware of 'reports regarding attacks' on a US Navy vessel
Houthi military helicopter flies over the Galaxy Leader cargo ship in the Red Sea, 20 November 2023 (Houthi military media handout/Reuters)
Houthi military helicopter flies over the Galaxy Leader cargo ship in the Red Sea, 20 November 2023 (Houthi military media handout/Reuters)

Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels on Sunday said they had attacked two ships off the Yemeni coast, adding that the "Israeli" vessels had been targeted over the war in Gaza.

A US defence official told AFP that Washington was "aware of reports" regarding attacks in the Red Sea, and hours earlier a maritime security group said a UK-owned ship had reportedly been hit by rocket fire.

In a statement posted on social media, the Houthis said they carried out an "operation against two Israeli ships in the Bab al-Mandab Strait", a strategic waterway connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, targeting one with a "missile and the second ship with a drone".

The Houthis identified the vessels as Unity Explorer and Number Nine, saying the attack came after the two ships "rejected warning messages" from its forces.

The Houthis said they would continue to target Israeli vessels "until the Israeli aggression against our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip stops".

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A US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said "we're aware of reports regarding attacks on the [US Navy's] USS Carney and commercial vessels in the Red Sea and will provide information as it becomes available".

'Struck by a rocket'

Earlier on Sunday, maritime security firm Ambrey said, citing reports, that an unnamed Bahamas-flagged vessel was "struck by a rocket" while sailing south around 35 nautical miles off Yemen's western coast.

"The affected vessel was issuing distress calls relating to piracy/missile attack," the UK-based company added.

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It noted reports that "an international naval asset in the vicinity of the incident" was likely proceeding to the ship's location.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations agency, run by Britain's Royal Navy, said it had received "a report of Uncrewed Aerial Systems (UAS) activity including a potential explosion… originating from the direction of Yemen".

It advised vessels in the area to "exercise caution".

Heightened tensions

The latest incidents came amid heightened tensions in the Red Sea and surrounding waters after Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized an Israeli-linked cargo vessel, the Galaxy Leader, last month.

Within days, two ballistic missiles were also launched from an area controlled by the Yemeni rebels, landing around 10 nautical miles from a US destroyer, the USS Mason, according to the Pentagon.

The Houthis have fired a series of drone and missile strikes targeting Israel since Hamas militants poured over the border into Israel on 7 October, killing 1,200 people and kidnapping about 240.

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In response, Israel vowed to destroy Hamas and began an air, sea and ground offensive that has killed more than 15,500 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza's health ministry.

The spike in maritime incidents prompted G7 foreign ministers at a meeting earlier this week to urge the rebels to cease threats to international shipping and to release the Galaxy Leader.

In the latest apparent attack, Ambrey said the targeted vessel - en route from the United States to Singapore - had transited the Suez Canal five days ago.

"The bulker was reportedly struck by a rocket and the crew retreated to the citadel," it added.

"Numerous vessels passed the incident location today but no unusual manoeuvres were observed." 

Ambrey said the attacked vessel's ownership and management was linked to Dan David Ungar, a British citizen listed as an Israeli resident in Britain's main companies directory.

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