US missile strikes came after a bulk carrier was hit by Houthi drones in the Gulf of Aden
The US military has fired another wave of missile strikes against Houthi-controlled sites, marking the fourth time in a week that it has directly targeted the group in Yemen.
The strikes were launched from the Red Sea, hitting more than a dozen sites – the officials told the AP news agency – and came after a drone launched from areas controlled by the Houthis hit a US-owned vessel in the Gulf of Aden.
The Houthi-controlled Saba news agency said that the areas targeted were Hodeidah, Taiz, Dhamar, al Bayda and Saada. The Media group claimed that UK aircraft were also involved in the strikes but the Guardian was not able to verify those claims.
The US military said that its forces conducted strikes on 14 Houthi missiles that were loaded to be fired from Yemen, and that they presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region.
Since November, attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi militia on ships in the region have slowed trade between Asia and Europe and alarmed major powers. The Houthis, who control most of Yemen, say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
Wednesday’s attack on Red Sea shipping saw a drone launched by the Houthis smash into the Genco Picardy bulk carrier, causing a fire that was soon extinguished, according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations organisation. The vessel and its crew were said to be safe and proceeding to their next port of call.
The attack was a clear rebuke to the Biden administration for its announcement earlier on Wednesday that it was reassigning the Houthis to its list of “specially designated global terrorists”.
Washington officials said they would design financial penalties against the Houthis to minimise harm to Yemen’s 32 million people.
Despite the sanctions and military strikes – including a large-scale operation last Friday carried out by US and British forces that hit more than 60 targets across Yemen – the Houthis are continuing their harassment campaign of ships in the Red Sea.
On Wednesday, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said the US would continue to take military action to prevent further attacks.
“They are exploiting this situation to conduct attacks against the ships and vessels from more than 50 countries … around the world. And so we’re going to continue to work with our partners in the region to prevent those attacks or deter those attacks in the future,” Ryder said.
The UK foreign secretary, David Cameron, told Bloomberg: “I think we need to look at all the tools we have in the toolbox … Obviously, we have been using sanctions against a number of people in Iran and we need to look at how we can step that up if this behaviour continues.”
Houthi leaders have said their attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea will end as soon as the “Israeli aggression” in Gaza stops, and warned that they would view any sanctions by Britain or America as a declaration of war.
More shipping companies have said they would not risk using the Red Sea route until the crisis subsided.
In a joint statement on Tuesday evening, 26 Yemeni and international organisations, including Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council, expressed their “deep concern about the humanitarian impacts of the recent military escalation in Yemen and the Red Sea”.
The group said that humanitarian organisations “have already begun to feel the impact of the security threat in the Red Sea, as disrupting trade leads to higher prices and causes delays in shipments of lifesaving goods”.
The group said it expected that “further escalation may force more organisations to stop their operations in areas witnessing hostilities”.
More than 75% of Yemenis depend on aid to live, amid a severe economic crisis caused by the war, the collapse of the currency, and restrictions imposed on imports and trade with countries abroad.
The status of the Houthis as specially designated global terrorists was withdrawn in February 2021 by the Biden administration as it sought to make it easier to get humanitarian aid into Yemen.
A US official said the new designation would take effect in 30 days to allow time to carve out robust humanitarian exemptions so the measures targeted the Houthis and not the people of Yemen.
The official said: “The people of Yemen should not pay the price for the actions of the Houthis.”
The US intends that any group or financial organisation, including those outside the US, could face US sanctions or fines if it was proven they were knowingly undertaking business with the Houthis.
The official added that the special terrorist designation may be lifted if the attacks on commercial shipping ended. They insisted that the designation was not intended to scupper the UN-led peace process that requires talks between the Houthis and the UN-recognised coalition government in Aden. But legal analysts suggest inhibitions may be placed on peace talks.