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US, other countries warn Houthis against further attacks in Red Sea

Houthi military spokesman, Brigadier Yahya Saree, delivers a statement on the recent attacks against two commercial vessels in the Red Sea during a march in solidarity with the people of Gaza in the capital Sanaa on Dec. 15, 2023. Yemen's Houthi rebels struck a cargo ship in the Red Sea on Dec. 15, causing a fire on deck in the latest of a near-daily series of attacks in the commercially vital waterway. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

More than a dozen countries warned the Houthis, a Yemen-based rebel group backed by Iran, against continuing their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, which have disrupted global commerce and triggered a limited military response from the U.S.

“The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways,” governments, including the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands and New Zealand, said in a joint statement Wednesday.

They called the attacks “illegal, unacceptable, and profoundly destabilizing.”

U.S. officials said later that Singapore had also signed on to the statement.

Numerous container shipping lines have elected to avoid the Red Sea following a wave of attacks, instead sailing their fleets thousands of miles around Africa. The channel normally handles about 12% of the world’s commerce. The attacks have added to the risks of a regional expansion of Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

While pledging to “hold malign actors accountable for unlawful seizures and attacks,” the nations didn’t indicate steps beyond the U.S.-led naval task force that has responded to Houthi attacks, including by sinking Houthi boats after the group attempted to board a container ship, the Maersk Hangzhou, on Dec. 31.

Yet people familiar with the matter have said the U.S. and its allies are considering possible military strikes against the Houthis in Yemen, in a recognition that the maritime task force may not be enough to eliminate the threat to the vital waterway.

Asked if the U.S. and allies were contemplating preemptive action to prevent further attacks, a senior administration official on Wednesday declined to detail any further steps against the Houthis, instead pointing to the warning issued earlier.

The U.S. will act in concert with other nations as they see fit, the senior official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that the administration has been keen to avoid a resumption of open warfare in Yemen, which has suffered from years of civil conflict.

The official characterized the Houthi use of anti-ship missiles as unprecedented, saying they were traveling at Mach 5 when U.S. forces shot them down.

Commercial shippers’ rerouting of vessels increases costs and causes delays to delivery of commodities including food and fuel, as well as international humanitarian assistance, the governments said.

The United Nations Security Council met Wednesday to discuss the Red Sea attacks on a request by countries including the U.S.

“We cannot leave it like that, we need to take action,” Nicolas de Riviere, the French envoy to the U.N. who currently presides over the council, told reporters Tuesday. “It’s a different issue from Gaza, but again, it’s an additional threat posed to the stability of this region.”


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