Reports of ‘suspicious’ small boats near merchant ships in Red Sea despite US-UK airstrikes

World

“Suspicious” small boats have reportedly approached merchant ships near Yemen despite attacks on Houthi targets by the US and UK.

American and British planes, ships and submarines launched dozens of airstrikes across the country overnight in retaliation against Iran-backed Houthi forces for months of attacks on Red Sea shipping.

As Houthis threaten a response, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said it received a report of two small boats following a vessel for more than an hour.

No weapons were seen, but the “suspicious approach” happened in an area 80 nautical miles southeast of Aden in Yemen, according to the agency.

Just hours before this alleged incident, the UKMTO said it received a report of a missile fired towards a vessel in a similar area, with no injuries or damage caused.

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The Houthis – who said five of its fighters were killed and another six injured – warned on Friday the strikes would not go without “punishment or retaliation”.

Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of the group, with some bearing the Palestinian flag, as photos showed the scale of a mass protest in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a on Friday.

An aerial view the Houthi group claims shows a mass protest in Yemen's capital. Pic: Houth Media Centre
Image:
An aerial view the Houthi group claims shows a mass protest. Pic: Houth Media Centre

Commenting for the first time since the attacks, US President Joe Biden said the operation was a “success” and said he believed there were no civilian casualties.

When asked if he thought the Houthis were a terrorist group, he said: “I think they are.”

He also denied claims the US was now in a proxy war with Iran, adding: “Iran does not want a war with us.”

Lieutenant General Douglas Sims said both militaries hit nearly 30 locations in the country using more than 150 munitions – higher figures than previously stated.

How the US and UK targeted Houthi strikes - D&F analysis

He told reporters the US did not expect a high number of casualties as some targets were in rural areas – but he expected the Houthis to retaliate, adding they fired an anti-ship missile without success.

Asked whether the Houthis could be targeted again, UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron did not rule out the prospect of further strikes.

“We will do what is necessary to protect our ships,” he said.

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US and UK strikes on Yemen explained

“Warnings were not working. The number of attacks were increasing and the severity of those attacks were increasing. This escalation has been caused by the Houthis.

“This action is in response to that – to send a very clear message that if you act in this way, there aren’t just warnings, there are consequences.”

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