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Houthi leader threatens to attack US warships if Washington targets Yemen

2 min

The leader of Yemen's Houthis warned on Wednesday they would strike U.S. warships if the Iranian-backed militia was targeted by Washington, which this week set up a multinational force to counter Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

Newly recruited fighters who joined a Houthi military force intended to be sent to fight in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, march during a parade in Sanaa, Yemen December 2, 2023. Reuters/Khaled Abdullah

The leader of Yemen's Houthis warned on Wednesday they would strike U.S. warships if the Iranian-backed militia was targeted by Washington, which this week set up a multinational force to counter Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

The Houthis, which control vast amounts of territory in Yemen after years of war, have since last month fired drones and missiles at international vessels sailing through the Red Sea, attacks it says respond to Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip.

The U.S.-led security initiative will see Washington and ten other, mostly NATO countries patrol the Red Sea to deter and respond to future Houthi attacks that have so far led to major global shipping lines rerouting around Africa instead.

"We will not stand idly by if the Americans are tempted to escalate further and commit foolishness by targeting our country or waging war against it," Abdel-Malek al-Houthi said.

"Any American targeting of our country will be targeted by us, and we will make American battleships, interests, and navigation a target for our missiles, drones, and military operations," he said in a televised speech.

The crisis in the Red Sea has grown out of the war between Israel and Gaza's ruling Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, the latest conflict in the Middle East to pit the U.S. and its allies against regional power Iran and its Arab militia proxies.

The war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas fighters stormed across the Gaza border into southern Israel, where Israeli authorities say the militants killed about 1,200 mostly civilian Israelis and foreigners.

Israel’s retaliatory bombardment and invasion of Gaza, which Israeli officials state is aimed at wiping out Hamas, has killed nearly 20,000 Palestinians, according to health officials in the densely populated, coastal enclave.

Iranian proxies including the Houthis and Lebanese Hezbollah have fired rockets at Israel since the conflict began. The Houthis, meanwhile, have stepped up their Red Sea attacks, threatening to target all ships heading to Israel and warning shipping companies against dealing with Israeli ports.

The attacks have disrupted a key trade route that links Europe and North America with Asia via the Suez Canal and caused container shipping costs to rise sharply as companies seek to ship their goods via alternative, often longer, routes.

Dubbed "Operation Prosperity Guardian", Britain, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain, along with the U.S., will conduct joint patrols in the southern Red Sea and the adjacent Gulf of Aden.

"As long as the Americans want to enter into a direct war with us, they should know that we are not those who fear them, and that they are facing an entire people," al-Houthi said.

He warned the Americans against sending soldiers to Yemen, saying they would "face something harsher than what they faced in Afghanistan and what they suffered in Vietnam."

(Reporting by Jana Choukeir, Clauda Tanios in Dubai, Mohammed Ghobari in Aden; writing by Jana Choukeir and Alexander Cornwell; editing by Andrew Heavens, Mark Heinrich and Toby Chopra)

Reporting by Jana Choukeir, Clauda Tanios in Dubai, Mohammed Ghobari in Aden; writing by Jana Choukeir and Alexander Cornwell; editing by Andrew Heavens, Mark Heinrich and Toby Chopra

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