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US, Allies Warn Houthis of 'Consequences' if Attacks on Vessels in Red Sea Continue


FILE - Houthi fighters open the door of the control bridge of a ship in the Red Sea, in this photo released Nov. 20, 2023. (Houthi Military Media/Handout via Reuters)
FILE - Houthi fighters open the door of the control bridge of a ship in the Red Sea, in this photo released Nov. 20, 2023. (Houthi Military Media/Handout via Reuters)

The United States and 11 allies on Wednesday jointly warned Yemen's Houthi militants of unspecified consequences unless they halt attacks on cargo vessels sailing through the Red Sea.

"Let our message now be clear: We call for the immediate end of these illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews," the countries said in a statement released by the White House.

"The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy and free flow of commerce in the region's critical waterways," the 12 countries said.

Signatories on the statement include Britain, which on Monday issued its own warning to the Houthis of "direct action," as well as Australia, Canada, Germany and Japan.

Shipping companies reroute vessels

At an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting on Wednesday called by the United States and other council members, the head of the U.N.'s International Maritime Organization said 18 shipping companies have decided to reroute their vessels away from the Red Sea and around southern Africa to reduce the risk of attack from the Houthis.

"This adds 10 days to the journey and an increase in freight rates," IMO Secretary-General Arsenio Dominguez told the council in a video briefing.

Dominguez said about 15% of the international shipping trade passes through the Red Sea, and it is of the "utmost importance" to ensure the safety and security of global supply chains as well as the crews aboard these ships.

The Japanese-operated ship Galaxy Leader and crew of 25 were seized by the Houthis on November 19 and remain in the militant group's custody. Council members called for the crew and ship's immediate and unconditional release.

Attacks target ships bound for Israel

The Iranian-backed Houthis have launched drone, missile and boat attacks since October, targeting what they say are vessels linked with or traveling to Israel. The militants say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

Israel's envoy to the U.N. said the issue is not an Israel problem or a regional one, but a global one. He urged the security council to enforce its own sanctions against the Houthis and those who arm and fund them — namely Iran.

"These are blatant terror attacks against diverse global targets," Gilad Erdan told the council. "This is the epitome of an international terror threat. Council members, today must be far more than a wake-up call. Today we must act."

The United States also called for a united international action.

"It is vital that the council speak — and speak now — on the need to uphold international law, as well as navigational rights and freedoms," U.S. envoy Christopher Lu said.

Lu also pointed at Iran's role, saying it had funded and armed the Houthis for years, enabling their attacks.

Diplomats said after the meeting that the Americans are gauging whether they would have the necessary council support to get a resolution adopted on the issue.

Russia's envoy reiterated his country's condemnation of the attacks and called on the Houthis not to jeopardize vessels in the Red Sea but signaled some reluctance to take any serious action in the council.

Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said he preferred a scenario where the council redoubled its efforts to resolve Yemen's lengthy civil war in order to bring stability, over what he warned could be a "catastrophic" option of "pouring gasoline" on the situation by using "forceful methods" with the Houthis.

The attacks have drawn military responses from U.S. and British forces and prompted the United States to set up a coalition of countries to try to protect the shipping lanes.

U.S. Central Command reported a new Houthi attack late Tuesday, saying the militants fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles from Yemen into the southern Red Sea.

A CENTCOM statement said multiple commercial ships in the area reported the missiles landed in the water and that there were no reports of damage.

"These illegal actions endangered the lives of dozens of innocent mariners and continue to disrupt the free flow of international commerce," CENTCOM said. "This is the 24th attack against merchant shipping in the Southern Red Sea since Nov. 19."

VOA U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.

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