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US and UK launch air strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen after Red Sea attacks

Abdel-Malik al-Houthi said the group was 'determined to target ships linked to Israel' and that any attack would 'not go without response'
Plumes of smoke can be seen rising from a building near Sanaa international airport in the Yemeni capital on 11 January 2023 following a suspected air strike (Screengrab)

The United States and United Kingdom launched air strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen late on Thursday, following a spate of attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea region.

Explosions were reported in several cities across the war-ravaged country, including the capital Sanaa, the western port city of Hodeidah, the Houthi stronghold of Saada and the south-western city of Dhamar.

"American-Zionist-British aggression against Yemen launches several raids on the capital Sanaa, Hodeidah governorate, Saada, and Dhamar," Houthi official Abdul Qader al-Mortada wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The spokesperson of the group also said on Friday that there "is no justification for the attacks".

In a statement early on Friday, US President Joe Biden said the strikes were in response to the Houthis endangering "freedom of navigation in one of the world's most vital waterways," and were carried out with the UK and with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and The Netherlands. 

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"These targeted strikes are a clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most critical commercial routes," Biden said.

Thursday's air strikes took place hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrapped up a multi-nation trip through the Middle East that was aimed in part at getting support for more action against the Houthis.

The UK and the US have repeatedly warned the Houthis against attacking vessels passing through the Red Sea, a vital shipping route, in protest against Israel's war in Gaza.

Various shipping lines have suspended operations, instead taking the longer journey around Africa.

War on Gaza: UK 'willing to take direct action' against Houthis amid Red Sea attacks
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On Thursday afternoon, the Houthis fired a ballistic missile in the Gulf of Aden, in what US officials said was the 27th attack on commercial shipping by the group since 19 November. According to the US military, the missile did not cause any injuries or damage.

And on Tuesday, US and UK carrier-based jets and warships shot down 21 drones and missiles launched by the Iran-backed group towards Israel.

The Houthis have said their attacks in the busy waterway are an act of solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza and that they are targeting ships with links to Israel.

In a televised speech earlier on Thursday, Houthi leader Abdel Malik al-Houthi vowed a “big” response to the US and its allies if they proceeded with military action against his group.

"Any American attack will not remain without a response. The response will be greater than the attack that was carried out with 20 drones and a number of missiles," he said in a speech on Thursday.

"We are more determined to target ships linked to Israel, and we will not back down from that," Houthi added.

The Houthi movement, an Iran-aligned group that has been fighting against a western-backed Saudi-led coalition for control of Yemen since 2014, has said it will only stop the attacks once Israel ends its war on Gaza.

Widespread condemnation

The US and UK attacks on Yemen have been widely condemned by several countries. 

Lebanon's Hezbollah said on Friday that "the American aggression confirms once again that the US is a full partner in the tragedies and massacres committed by the Zionist enemy in Gaza and the region.”

Oman also denounced the attacks, with the foreign ministry issuing a statement warning of a spillover effect as a result of Israel's attack on Gaza.

'We denounce the resort to military action by [western] allies while Israel persists in its brutal war without accountability'

- Oman foreign ministry statement

“We denounce the resort to military action by allies while Israel persists in its brutal war without accountability,” the statement said, adding that the country is following with “great concern” the developments of the US-UK bombing of several cities in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia called for restraint and "avoiding escalation" in light of the air strikes, with the foreign ministry stating that they are closely monitoring the situation with "great concern". 

"The kingdom emphasizes the importance of maintaining the security and stability of the Red Sea region, as the freedom of navigation in it is an international demand," the ministry added.

However, some countries have spoken out in support of the strikes. 

Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen issued a statement on Friday expressing his support for the air strikes on Yemen.

Denmark is home to the Maersk global shipping line that has been forced to divert shipping from the Red Sea since the Houthis began targeting vessels in the waterway.

Australia’s defence minister, Richard Marles, also said on Friday that Canberra had provided personnel support to the US and the UK in their strikes on Yemen.

Last month, the US sent an aircraft carrier, the USS Dwight D Eisenhower, to the area and also announced a coalition of countries to protect movement in the Red Sea.

The Red Sea is one of the world's most important shipping lanes, linking European and Asian markets through the Suez Canal.

Around 12 percent of global trade passes through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, close to where the Houthis are targeting shipping.

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