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Could Houthi attacks on ships off the Yemen coast continue even after a Gaza ceasefire?

Analysis Could Houthi attacks on ships off the Yemen coast continue even after a Gaza ceasefire?
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The MV Merlin Luande is one of the many cargo ships that have suffered damage in Houthi attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. (AFP)
Analysis Could Houthi attacks on ships off the Yemen coast continue even after a Gaza ceasefire?
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Updated 27 February 2024

Could Houthi attacks on ships off the Yemen coast continue even after a Gaza ceasefire?

Could Houthi attacks on ships off the Yemen coast continue even after a Gaza ceasefire?
  • Militia says it is acting in solidarity with Palestinians, but it appears to be profiting in other ways
  • Security experts say current Western military response may be playing into the hands of Houthis

LONDON: The campaign of attacks by Yemen’s Houthi fighters on shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden continues, despite renewed US and UK strikes on their positions, leading to fears about the long-term security of these strategically important waterways.

The persistence of the attacks has turned the spotlight on the Iran-backed militia as it appears to be gaining strength, in terms of weaponry and fighters, and confidence in its ability to cause global trade disruptions.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference last week, Rashad Al-Alimi, chair of the Presidential Leadership Council of the UN-backed Yemeni government, said the Houthis had irrevocably altered the region’s geopolitical contours.




The persistence of the attacks has turned the spotlight on the Iran-backed militia. (AP)

“The Red Sea will continue to be a source of tension, ready to explode at any political turn, as long as the Houthis control coastal regions,” he added.

“To end Houthi piracy, we must address its origin and source. This can only be accomplished by restoring state institutions, ending the coup, and applying maximum pressure on Iran.”

The Houthi militia is part of the “axis of resistance,” a loose network of Iran-backed proxy militias throughout the region that includes the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and several Shiite groups in Iraq.

When the Houthis began attacking commercial shipping in November, they claimed they were only targeting vessels with links to Israel in an attempt to pressure the Israeli government to end its military operation against Hamas in Gaza.

However, Houthi drones, missiles and acts of piracy have been launched against several ships with no ties to Israel. In fact, in recent weeks Yemeni ships, and even vessels belonging to Houthi-allied Iran, have come under attack.

According to a tally by the Associated Press news agency, the Houthis have carried out at least 57 attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since Nov. 19. US Central Command has even identified the use of a Houthi-operated submarine drone.

In response to these attacks, many of the world’s biggest freight companies have redirected their vessels from the Suez Canal route to the Mediterranean, thereby avoiding the Red Sea, and instead are using much longer and more expensive routes via the Cape of Good Hope.




The Houthis have carried out at least 57 attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since Nov. 19. (AFP)

Simon Evenett, founder of nonprofit organization the St. Gallen Endowment for Prosperity Through Trade, said that while shipping costs have risen, they are still “well below” their pandemic-era peaks. He also noted that some freight companies had simply continued to traverse the waterways of the Red Sea despite the risk of attack.

“The New York Fed’s index of Global Supply Chain Pressure has barely moved,” Evenett told ż. “Important as it is, just 11 percent of global trade flows through the Red Sea. This isn’t enough to disrupt the world economy.

“What’s harder to assess is whether yet more upheaval in trade routes further undermines policymakers’ and corporate trust in long-distance sourcing. A further nudge towards national and regional sourcing can be expected.”

To prevent disruption to trade, protect mariners and uphold the right to freedom of navigation, the US-led patrol mission, Operation Prosperity Guardian, was established in December. When the Houthi attacks persisted, the US and UK launched strikes against militia targets in Yemen.

In a joint statement on Feb. 24, the US and the UK said their military forces struck 18 Houthi sites across eight locations in Yemen, including underground weapons and missile storage facilities, air defense systems, radars and a helicopter.




The Houthi militia is part of the “axis of resistance,” a loose network of Iran-backed proxy militias throughout the region. (AFP)

The operation was the fourth time the US and UK had carried out joint attacks against the Houthis since Jan. 12. The US has also carried out almost daily operations against Houthi targets, including incoming missiles, rockets and drones targeting vessels.

These Western strikes have done little to stem the tide of attacks, however. On Feb. 19, the Houthis mounted one of their most damaging assaults yet, on the Belize-flagged Rubymar, carrying cargo from the UAE to Bulgaria, forcing its crew to abandon ship.

Indeed, far from curtailing the activities of the Houthis, their popularity in Yemen appears to have grown since the shipping attacks began, with thousands of recruits reportedly joining their ranks.

If its intent was to force a swift Houthi climbdown, the Western military response has so far borne little fruit. The Houthis seem only too keen to up the ante, with their leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi stating “we will also attack with submarine weapons.”

However, in a message posted recently on social media platform X, the militia said: “What the world is impatiently waiting for is not the militarization of the Red Sea, but rather an urgent and comprehensive declaration of ceasefire in Gaza, for humanitarian reasons that are clear to anyone.

“There is no danger to international or European navigation so long as there are no aggressive operations, and thus, there is no need to militarize the Red Sea.”




In a joint statement on Feb. 24, the US and the UK said their military forces struck 18 Houthi sites across eight locations in Yemen. (Getty Images/AFP)

Not everyone is convinced that securing a ceasefire in Gaza will end the Houthi attacks on shipping. Like Al-Alimi, those with such concerns want the international community to take the worst-case scenario more seriously and take preventive action now.

Raiman Al-Hamdani, a researcher at social enterprise organization Ark, agreed that attacks are likely to continue after the war, but in the form of piracy in a “push to monetize their presence” in the seas off the coast of Yemen.

“This could mean attacking commercial vessels in the future, albeit not to the extent that we are seeing today,” he told ż, adding that the Houthis could begin demanding taxes from vessels passing through Bab Al-Mandab Strait in return for not striking them.

Farea Al-Muslimi, a research fellow at Chatham House, likewise believes the Houthis have hit upon an opportunity to raise revenues from passing vessels.

“They will, of course, try to make deals and there are already countries that are looking for waivers,” Al-Muslimi told ż.

“But there are several problems with this, one of which is that were they to escalate the crisis in the Red Sea, it would not be safe for anyone.

“As you can see, they have already attacked ships linked to Yemen and vessels belonging to their own ally, Iran, so any escalation of this will not be a clean battle.”

Some countries, including regional states, have called for a more measured response to the attacks, rather than military action that might inflame tensions in the region.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry recently expressed “deep concern over the escalation of military operations in the Red Sea and the airstrikes that were directed at a number of sites in Yemen.” It called for a “united international and regional effort to reduce tension and instability in the region, including navigation security.”




US Central Command has identified the use of a Houthi-operated submarine drone. (AFP)

It added: “The dangerous and escalating developments taking place are a clear indication of what we’ve repeatedly warned against regarding the dangers of expanding the conflict in the region as a result of the continued Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip.”

Security experts have also said the military response might prove counterproductive, with concerns that it could play into the hands of the Houthis, who have sought to present themselves as defenders of Gaza who are standing up to Israel and its Western allies.

Al-Hamdani believes the attacks on shipping serve several purposes for the Houthis: to help recruit new followers, distract from domestic problems, burnish support among the population, and to strengthen the militia’s negotiating position in the ongoing Yemen peace process.

Al-Muslimi believes the Houthis have “already capitalized on it as much as they could politically,” suggesting the attacks will likely stop when the war in Gaza ends.


The persistence of the attacks has turned the spotlight on the Iran-backed militia. (AP)

The persistence of the attacks has turned the spotlight on the Iran-backed militia. (AP)

However, he said the regional calculus has changed as a result of the Houthi onslaught and the broader context in the region since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on southern Israel that sparked the conflict in Gaza, increasing the chances the Middle East could be plunged into a wider war.

“Nothing in the Middle East will be the same after Oct. 7, and this includes how the world views Yemen, how the world views the Red Sea,” said Al-Muslimi.

“That applies to everything and everywhere. That is how much of an influence it has had. That is how much it has spilled over.”


UN rapporteur raps Israeli obstruction of field visit to Gaza

 UN rapporteur raps Israeli obstruction of field visit to Gaza
Updated 40 min 25 sec ago

UN rapporteur raps Israeli obstruction of field visit to Gaza

 UN rapporteur raps Israeli obstruction of field visit to Gaza
  • Shoukry pointed out that the increase in Israeli assaults and illegal settlement practices in the West Bank raises the risk of the conflict erupting in the entirety of the occupied Palestinian territories

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese discussed the condition of human rights and Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territories on Sunday.

Shoukry received Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, in Cairo, where they called for an immediate end to Israeli attacks on Gaza in compliance with international laws and demanded the safe delivery of humanitarian aid.

They also called for a stop to mounting settler violence in the West Bank, demanding accountability of the perpetrators.

Shoukry pointed out that the increase in Israeli assaults and illegal settlement practices in the West Bank raises the risk of the conflict erupting in the entirety of the occupied Palestinian territories.

He warned of the security repercussions of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which undermines the stability of the broader region.

The foreign minister expressed regret over the reluctance of several countries so far to describe Israeli practices as a flagrant violation of international law.

Shoukry and Albanese discussed the status of human rights and the humanitarian condition of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Shoukry reiterated the need to stop Israel from implementing policies of collective punishment, indiscriminately targeting civilians, and displacing Palestinians from their lands.

The UN rapporteur denounced Israel’s refusal to allow her to conduct a field visit to the Gaza Strip and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Albanese expressed her deep concern for the catastrophic humanitarian situation Palestinians are experiencing and called on Israel to comply with its obligations under international law as the occupying power.

She also stressed her keenness to continue discussions with Egypt regarding ways to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians.

 


Arab League, UN cooperating on women’s security 

Arab League, UN cooperating on women’s security 
Updated 21 April 2024

Arab League, UN cooperating on women’s security 

Arab League, UN cooperating on women’s security 
  • Agreement will develop the Arab Women’s Strategy for Security and Peace

RIYADH: The Arab League and United Nations Women Regional Office for Arab States signed a cooperation agreement, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

It was signed by Arab League Assistant Secretary-General Haifa Abu Ghazaleh and Susanne Mikhail Eldhagen, regional director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

Abu Ghazaleh highlighted the significance of cooperation in the “Women, Security and Peace” program. It will develop the Arab Women’s Strategy for Security and Peace as well as various national strategies across Arab countries, she added.

Eldhagen highlighted the challenges faced by women in conflict zones, including in Gaza. She hailed progress in women’s rights through cooperation between the UN and Arab League.
 


190 bodies found in mass grave in Gaza’s Nasser Medical Complex

190 bodies found in mass grave in Gaza’s Nasser Medical Complex
Updated 21 April 2024

190 bodies found in mass grave in Gaza’s Nasser Medical Complex

190 bodies found in mass grave in Gaza’s Nasser Medical Complex
  • Civil defense department alleges claimed that some of those killed had been tortured by the Israeli military

LONDON: A mass grave containing 190 bodies has been discovered by Palestinian civil defense teams at the Nasser Medical Complex in the Gazan city of Khan Younis, Jordan News Agency reported on Sunday.

The civil defense department said the deceased were victims of an Israeli attack on the facility.

Mahmud Bassal, spokesman for the department, claimed that some of those killed had been tortured.

“There were no clothes on some bodies, which certainly indicates (the victims) faced torture and abuse,” Bassal told AFP

Search efforts are ongoing, with officials saying a significant number of victims remain buried at the site.

The department estimates that around 700 individuals have been killed and buried in mass graves within the complex since the Gaza conflict broke out on Oct. 7.

The discovery was made following the withdrawal of Israeli military forces from Khan Younis on April 7. 

Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians since the conflict began, at least two-thirds of them children and women, according to the enclave’s Health Ministry.

It says the real toll is likely higher as many bodies are stuck beneath rubble or are in areas that are unreachable.


Houthis launch ‘indoctrination’ summer camps

Abdul Malik Al-Houthi announced the opening of the annual summer camps on Saturday. (File/AFP)
Abdul Malik Al-Houthi announced the opening of the annual summer camps on Saturday. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 April 2024

Houthis launch ‘indoctrination’ summer camps

Abdul Malik Al-Houthi announced the opening of the annual summer camps on Saturday. (File/AFP)
  • Children in Houthi camps taught how to make models for military equipment, sectarian ideas that inspire hatred, violence, says analyst 

AL-MUKALLA: The leader of the Houthi militia has called on families in regions under his control in Yemen to encourage their children to join summer camps, a move that has renewed accusations against the militia of child soldiering.

Abdul Malik Al-Houthi announced the opening of the annual summer camps on Saturday, saying they would fill in the free time of the country’s children during the summer and teach ideas rooted in the “faith identity” of Yemen, which would allegedly protect them from foreign ideas and also motivate them to confront their enemies. 

“The enemies are disturbed by the summer courses, and their media outlets usually start organized campaigns attacking the courses and those responsible for them,” Al-Houthi said, urging his supporters not to listen to critics. 

After their leader’s speech, Houthi officials in Sanaa, Hajjah, Hodeidah, and other areas controlled by the militia launched summer camps in their cities and encouraged parents to send their children. 

Similarly to summer camps in previous years, the Houthis have faced accusations from Yemeni government officials, journalists, activists, and human rights organizations that they exploit schools, mosques, and other facilities used for these camps to indoctrinate, recruit, and train children for military purposes against the government.

“The Houthi militia has converted these summer camps into mobilization camps before conscription. This is the initial step in the recruitment process,” Ali Al-Fakih, editor of Al-Masdar Online, told ż.

Instead of teaching children peace, human values, music, and sketching, Al-Fakih said, children in Houthi camps are taught sectarian ideas that inspire hatred, violence, and killing, as well as how to make models for military equipment.

“Unfortunately, all of the ideologies taught in these camps promote sectarianism, instigate hatred and violence, and create time bombs,” he said.

Videos from Houthi summer camps in recent years have shown Houthi figures instructing youngsters how to wield weapons while some children were taken on a tour of the graves of deceased Houthi warriors.

Other children were observed screaming Houthi slogans, professing allegiance to the militia leader, vowing to battle militia opponents such as Israel and America, and participating in mock military parades. 

Critics have warned families living in Houthi-controlled areas not to listen to the militia’s calls to join summer camps, noting that many graduates of those camps have turned their guns on their own families.  

“To parents in areas controlled by the terrorist Houthi militia, boycott Houthi summer camps to save your children’s lives. Beware of clerics, charlatans, and deceptive phrases,” said Saleh Al-Qutaibi, a Yemeni army officer in the central city of Marib.

In their most recent report to the UN Security Council, released late last year, the UN Panel of Experts accused the Houthis of committing the majority of human rights violations in Yemen, including child soldiering.

It said that Houthi summer camps exist in three forms: open summer camps for boys and girls, model summer camps for children, and closed residential summer camps where boys aged 13 to 17 spend at least a month without seeing anyone, including their families. The report said that the latter camps provide boys with military training.

To get youngsters into their camps, the Houthis offer incentives such as waiving their registration costs for the following school year. Families that refuse to send their children to the camps are penalized by being denied humanitarian help and having their children abducted and sent to the conflict. 

Al-Fakih said this year that Houthis in the province of Ibb would not release students’ school year results if they did not attend summer camps. 

“They tied the submission of results for the last school year to the student’s attendance at summer centers,” Al-Fakih said.


Baby in Gaza saved from womb of mother killed in Israeli strike

Baby in Gaza saved from womb of mother killed in Israeli strike
Updated 21 April 2024

Baby in Gaza saved from womb of mother killed in Israeli strike

Baby in Gaza saved from womb of mother killed in Israeli strike
  • Baby, weighing 1.4 kg and delivered in an emergency C-section

RAFAH: A baby girl was delivered from the womb of a Palestinian killed along with her husband and daughter by an Israeli attack in the Gaza city of Rafah, where 19 people died overnight in intensified strikes, Palestinian health officials said.
The dead, killed in hits on two houses, included 13 children from one family, they said.
The baby, weighing 1.4 kg and delivered in an emergency C-section, was stable and improving gradually, said Mohammed Salama, a doctor caring for her.
Her mother, Sabreen Al-Sakani, had been 30 weeks pregnant.
The baby was placed in an incubator in a Rafah hospital alongside another infant, with the words “The baby of the martyr Sabreen Al-Sakani” written on tape across her chest.
Sakani’s young daughter Malak, who was killed in the strike, had wanted to name her new sister Rouh, meaning spirit in Arabic, said her uncle Rami Al-Sheikh. “The little girl Malak was happy that her sister was coming to the world,” he said.
The baby would stay in hospital for three to four weeks, said Salama, the doctor. “After that we will see about her leaving, and where this child will go, to the family, to the aunt or uncle or grandparents. Here is the biggest tragedy. Even if this child survives, she was born an orphan,” he said.
The 13 children were killed in a strike on the second home, belonging to the Abdel Aal family, according to Palestinian health officials. Two women were also killed in that strike.
Asked about the casualties in Rafah, an Israeli military spokesperson said various militant targets were struck in Gaza including military compounds, launch posts and armed people.
“Did you see one man in all of those killed?” said Saqr Abdel Aal, a Palestinian man whose family were among the dead, grieving over the body of a child in a white shroud.
“All are women and children,” he said. “My entire identity has been wiped out, with my wife, children and everyone.”
Mohammad Al-Behairi said his daughter and grandchild were still under the rubble. “It’s a feeling of sadness, depression, we have nothing left in this life to cry for, what feeling shall we have? When you lose your children, when you lose the closest of your loved ones, how will your feeling be?” he said.

’WE ARE TRAPPED’
Over half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have crowded into Rafah, seeking shelter from the Israeli offensive that has laid waste to much of the Gaza Strip over the last six months.
Israel is threatening a ground offensive into the area, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said fighters from the militant group Hamas must be eliminated to ensure Israel’s victory in the war.
President Joe Biden has urged Israel not to launch a large-scale offensive in Rafah to avoid more Palestinian civilian casualties.
Palestinian health authorities say more than 34,000 people have been killed in Israel’s assault, which began after Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and abducting another 253, according to Israeli tallies.
The Palestinian health ministry said on Sunday that Israeli military strikes killed 48 Palestinians and wounded 79 others across Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours.
In the larger of the two Palestinian territories, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Israel said its soldiers shot two Palestinians who tried to shoot and stab them on Sunday. The Palestinian health ministry said both men had died.
Abu Jehad, a Gaza City resident sheltering in Rafah with his family, said he was afraid the Israelis would invade Rafah unless a ceasefire is reached, and he would have to flee once again. “We are trapped and everyone awaits his turn to die,” said Abu Jehad, who was reached by phone.