Yemen’s Houthis say they attacked Maersk Sentosa ship in Arabian Sea

AL-MUKALLA: A merchant ship off Yemen’s east coast was the target of an attack believed to have been carried out by the Houthis on Tuesday, a British maritime agency that tracks attacks on ships said, ending more than a week without any reported attacks by the militia on vessels in international shipping lanes.

United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said the captain of a merchant vessel reported an incident 180 nautical miles east of Nishtun, a town in the eastern Yemeni province of Al-Mahra.

“The captain of a merchant vessel reports an explosion in the immediate vicinity of the ship. The ship and crew are safe. The ship is sailing to its next port of call,” the organization said.

The last confirmed Houthis attack off the coast of Yemen took place on June 28 near the western province of Hodeidah. Since launching their campaign against international shipping in November, the Houthis have attacked vessels in the Red Sea and other waters with hundreds of ballistic missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and drone boats loaded with explosives. In June, they stepped up their attacks, carrying out almost daily attacks on commercial and naval vessels in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.

The militia claims it is acting in support of the Palestinian people and wants to force Israeli authorities to cease their military operations in Gaza. Critics, however, say the Houthis are using Yemeni outrage over Israel’s actions in Gaza as a justification for resuming their war in Yemen and as a pretext to attack ships in an effort to boost public support, recruit more fighters and distract from their failure to fix crumbling public services and pay public workers.

In recent statements, Houthi spokesman Yahya Sarea said the group was working with an Iraqi militia to organize coordinated operations against Israeli targets and vessels in international waters, which have not been confirmed by naval authorities. On Monday, he said the militia and the Islamic Resistance in Iraq were responsible for a drone attack on “a vital location” in the Israeli port city of Eilat.

Meanwhile, the Houthis canceled a Yemenia Airways flight from Sanaa to Amman on Monday, sparking anger among passengers who had booked tickets. The Houthis justified their decision by citing the “aggressiveness” of the authorities, who refused to comply with the militia’s demands that the airline offer flights from Sanaa to other destinations such as Cairo and India.

The Houthis recently seized control of four Yemenia planes at Sanaa airport and prevented them from flying to Saudi Arabia to bring hundreds of Yemeni pilgrims home. A Yemeni government official told Arab News on Tuesday that the militia was trying to put pressure on the government to offer flights to new destinations in exchange for the release of the seized planes.

The Houthis also oppose plans by the Yemeni government to move the Civil Aviation and Meteorological Authority from Sanaa to Aden. This would deprive the militia of an important source of income and would make it unable to regulate air traffic.

“They now want to create a fait accompli by setting new targets and stopping all efforts to move the navigation and weather center from Sanaa to Aden,” said the official, who wished to remain anonymous.

The latest draft of a UN-brokered peace agreement includes a commitment by the Yemeni government to authorize additional routes from Sanaa to Yemen. In return, the Houthis would have to lift their siege of Taiz.

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