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Houthi attacks, U.S. strikes spur concerns of wider Mideast conflict


Houthi military helicopter flies over the Galaxy Leader cargo ship in the Red Sea in this photo released on Nov. 20, 2023.

Houthi Military Media | Via Reuters

Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched fresh attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea, while the U.S. carried out strikes against targets in Iraq, amid fears that the war in the Gaza Strip could engulf the Middle East.

The U.S. military carried out retaliatory strikes against three installations in Iraq linked to Kataib Hezbollah on Monday, the Pentagon announced, after three American service personnel were injured in a one-way drone attack carried out by the Iran-aligned militant group.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement that there is “no higher priority” than the protection of American troops and interests.

“While we do not seek to escalate conflict in the region, we are committed and fully prepared to take further necessary measures to protect our people and our facilities,” Austin added.

The Iraqi government criticized the U.S. strikes as “an unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty” and emphasized that attacks by armed groups against military bases that house U.S-led coalition advisers are deemed to be hostile acts and violate Iraqi sovereignty, a government statement said, according to Reuters

Tensions continued to stoke in the Red Sea. On Tuesday, Houthi militants, also backed by Iran, launched a fresh drone attack against a container ship operated by MSC that was heading for Pakistan.

“The naval forces of the Yemeni Armed Forces carried out a targeting operation against the commercial ship, ‘MSC UNITED,’ with appropriate naval missiles,” Yahya Sare’e, spokesperson for the Yemeni Armed Forces, said in a post on the X social media platform.

“The Yemeni Armed Forces affirm their continued support and solidarity with the Palestinian people in consistent with their religious, moral and humanitarian duty.”

The U.S. Central Command also announced on the social media platform that a U.S. destroyer and F/A-18 fighter jets shot down 12 attack drones, three anti-ship ballistic missiles and two land attack cruise missiles that were fired by Houthi militants over the southern Red Sea across a 10-hour period on Tuesday. There was no damage to ships in the area or reported injuries, the Pentagon said.

Drone and missile attacks by the militant group in recent weeks have upended shipping through the Red Sea and Suez Canal, a narrow waterway through which some 10% of the world’s trade sails.

“The Yemeni Armed Forces confirm the continuation of their operations in the Red and Arab Seas against Israeli ships or those heading to the ports of occupied Palestine until the food and medicine enter to Gaza Strip,” Sare’e added. The Houthis have previously cited solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

Analysts have previously warned of the risk of the Israel-Hamas conflict spreading into the broader Middle East, amid hostilities from Iranian-backed groups such as Hezbollah, Houthi and Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian administration.

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