Yemen’s Houthis have seized an Emirati flag ship in the Red Sea, opening another front with Saudi Arabia as the protracted war escalates.
The Saudi-led coalition, which intervened in the impoverished country’s civil war in 2015, called on the Iran-bound rebels to liberate the vessel immediately, and threatened the “use of force” to secure its release. ensure.
Brigadier Yahya Sarie, the Houthi’s military spokesman, said the United Arab Emirates’ “military cargo ship” had entered Yemeni waters “without any license and engaged in hostilities targeting the security and stability of the Yemeni people”.
The Saudi coalition said the vessel, named Rwabee, was seized late Sunday while equipment was being transported from a field hospital in the Socotra field to the Saudi port of Jizan, including cargo such as ambulances, communications equipment and security support equipment.
“This act of piracy. . . is a credible threat that underscores the threat posed by the Houthi terrorist militia to freedom of navigation and international trade, ”the official Saudi news agency said in a statement.
The incident is the first Houthi seizure on international shipping since 2019, when rebel vessels briefly detained under South Korean and Saudi flags in the waters of Yemen.
The vessel’s seizure represents a further escalation in the bloody battle for Yemen that has pushed the country to the brink of starvation. Saudi Arabia first intervened in 2015 and led a coalition of nations, including the UAE, which sought to restore the government ousted by the Houthis. The Emirati withdrew their military forces from Yemen in 2019.
The proxy fight that Saudi Arabia is pitting against its regional enemy Iran has been captured for years, with the Houthis in control of the more populated northern highlands and the Riyadh allied government based in the southern port city of Aden.
Riyadh and Tehran engaged in several rounds of talks last year as they tried to reduce tensions with the possible restoration of diplomatic ties cut in 2016. The war in Yemen was high on the agenda. Saudi Arabia accuses the Houthis of relying on Iran for armaments, a charge denied by the rebels.
In recent weeks, the Houthis and coalition forces have become involved in more tit-for-tat violence, including cross-border naval and missile attacks on civilian and oil targets in the kingdom and Saudi airstrikes on the capital, Sana’a.
The ground battle remains focused on the natural gas-rich province of Marib, where thousands of Houthi soldiers have launched an offensive against the region’s capital east of Sanaa, which remains under the control of the internationally recognized government.
The upsurge in fighting has led to efforts by the UN to bring about a lasting ceasefire and political talks that seek to end a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced several million others.