FOR the second time in less than three months, Saudi Arabian authorities have issued a warning that “there is a prevalent threat” to shipping in the Bab al-Mandeb strait separating Yemen from Africa, after Houthi rebels destroyed a civilian vessel.
The announcement was made in a statement by the Saudi Coalition, the military command comprising forces from several nations and led by Saudi Arabia that is fighting against the Houthis in support of the Yemeni government.
The rebels claimed they destroyed a military vessel with a missile attack, but the coalition said it was a civilian ship carrying aid. The ship was not identified.
“This incident demonstrates Houthi tactics of terrorist attacks against civilian international navigation in the Bab al-Mandab,” the coalition’s statement said.
The Bab al-Mandeb (or Bab al-Mandab) is a narrow strait that separates the Arabian Peninsula from Africa, and connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It is one of the world’s busiest waterways, as it is along the route connecting the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea.
In May and October 2015, shipping advisories were issued due to escalated conflict, particularly after a string of military attacks by Saudi-led forces damaged some ports in Yemen. This week, maritime research and consulting firm BIMCO updated a warning it issued in April, urging ships to review security procedures and proceed with caution.
For its part, the Saudi Coalition in its statement recommended that ships passing through the Bab al-Mandeb stay as far away as possible from the Yemeni side of the strait.
US forces strike rebels
Following the Houthi attack, tensions ratcheted up again after an exchange of missile attacks between the rebels and US Navy vessels.
Yemeni rebels on Thursday denied US accusations they had targeted a US destroyer in the Red Sea, which prompted cruise missile strikes on three radar sites under their control.
“Those claims are baseless,” the rebel-controlled Saba news agency quoted a military official allied with the rebels as saying.
“The (rebel-allied) army and the Popular Committees (militia) have nothing to do with this action,” the official added.
The Pentagon said it hit the radar sites on Wednesday after the destroyer USS Mason was targeted by missile fire for the second time in four days.
The warship was targeted earlier on Wednesday by a missile fired from rebel-held territory, which crashed into the sea before reaching its target, the Pentagon said.
It and a second vessel, the amphibious transport ship USS Ponce, were targeted on Sunday by two missiles that also fell short, it added.
The rebel official charged that the Pentagon’s accusations were an attempt to provide a pretext for the intelligence and logistics support it has provided to a Saudi-led coalition which has been fighting the rebels since March last year.
“Such claims aim to create false justifications to step up attacks and to cover up for the continuous crimes
committed by the (coalition) aggression against the Yemeni people,” the official said.
There has been mounting international criticism of the coalition for the high civilian death toll from its bombing of rebel-held areas.
A coalition air strike killed more than 140 people attending a wake for the father of a rebel leader in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Saturday.
More than 6,800 people have been killed in Yemen since the Saudi-led intervention began in 2015, almost two-thirds of them civilians, according to the United Nations.