Friday, January 21

Yemeni rebels seize boat in Red Sea

Houthi rebels in Yemen on Monday seized a boat in the Red Sea which they said was carrying “military equipment”, with Saudi Arabia denouncing an act of “piracy” against a ship containing civilian equipment.

“The boat named + Rwabee + and flying the flag of the United Arab Emirates was hacked and kidnapped at 11.57 p.m. (20.57 GMT) on Sunday while sailing off the coast of Hodeida province,” in western Yemen, said Turki al -Maliki, Saudi spokesperson for the coalition.

Saudi Arabia has intervened in Yemen since 2015 at the head of a military coalition to support government forces against the Houthis, supported by Iran.

Rival powers, Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, a country neighboring Yemen, are opposed on several issues in the Middle East.

The ship returning from the Yemeni archipelago of Socotra, off the southern coast of Yemen, had transported equipment intended for a field hospital in this archipelago, and was heading for Jazan, in Saudi Arabia, assured Mr. Maliki, in a statement quoted by the official Saudi agency SPA.

“The Houthi terrorist militia bears full responsibility for this criminal act of piracy,” he added, calling on the rebels to “release the ship immediately.” Otherwise, “the coalition forces will take all necessary measures to deal with this violation.”

Contacted by AFP, Turki al-Maliki was unable to specify the number of people on board the ship.

The United Arab Emirates did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.

The Houthis confirmed that they had seized an Emirati-flagged boat, claiming that it was carrying “military equipment”.

The ship “entered Yemeni waters without any authorization” and “was engaged in hostile acts,” rebel military spokesman Yahya Saree accused on Twitter.

“The successful and unprecedented operation is part of the fight against aggression” by the coalition, of which the Emirates are part, tweeted a rebel leader, Mohammed Abdelsalam.

At a press conference later Monday, he released video clips showing alleged military equipment on board the ship.

– “Unusual entry” –

“This seizure is unusual. It appears to be the first known case of a Houthi seizure of a coalition ship in more than two years,” a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

According to the official based in the Gulf, “it does not appear to be a cargo ship carrying commercial goods in the traditional sense.”

“The ship was passing through Yemen’s territorial waters,” he said, while commercial or civilian ships “generally pass through international waters.”

However, he assured that he was not aware of the contents of the boat or whether it was carrying military equipment.

In November 2019, the rebels seized a Saudi-flagged tugboat and two South Korean ships. They then released the crew, including two South Korean nationals.

Several hijackings, mostly attributed to Iran, have taken place in and around Gulf waters in recent years, heightening tensions.

– “Position of strength” –

Iran and the United States Navy, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, regularly accuse each other of carrying out hostile maneuvers at sea.

The conflict between the Riyadh-led coalition and the rebels has escalated in recent weeks, with the Saudi air force stepping up raids on Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen, and the Houthis stepping up missile and drone attacks against the kingdom.

According to analyst Stéphane Lacroix of Sciences Po Paris, the Houthis are “in a relatively strong position, unwilling to negotiate and they are trying to get the coalition to give up.”

“The Saudis (…) have launched a major offensive to put as much pressure as possible on the Houthis to accept a compromise. For the moment, that is not working” he added, saying that ” there is not much more the coalition can do at the moment “.

The UN and the United States are pushing to end the war in Yemen which has been going on since 2014, to no avail.

According to the UN, the war in Yemen has killed 377,000 people, including around 227,000 deaths due to the indirect consequences of the conflict, such as lack of clean water, hunger and disease.

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