An Israeli-linked cargo ship in the Red Sea has reportedly been hijacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have taken 25 crew members hostage, according to Israeli officials.
On Sunday, a spokesperson for Yemen’s Houthi group confirmed the rebels’ capture of the ship and the taking of the crew members as hostage due to the ship’s ties to Israel.
Yahya Saree, the Houthi military spokesman wrote in a statement on Twitter, “The Yemeni armed forces reiterate their warning to all ships belonging to or dealing with the Israeli enemy that they will become a legitimate target for armed forces.”
The Houthis are currently in a ceasefire amid a civil war with the Yemeni government and are supported by Iran.
Saree stated that the armed forces will continue military operations against Israel until the country ends its campaign against militant group Hamas, to whom Israel launched a surprise assault last month, resulting in over 1,200 deaths, including hundreds of civilians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office condemned the attack against the vessel, attributing responsibility to the Houthis.
The office wrote in a statement, “This is another act of Iranian terrorism and constitutes a leap forward in Iran’s aggression against the citizens of the free world, with international consequences regarding the security of the global shipping lanes.”
Netanyahu’s office confirmed that the 25 crew members aboard were not Israeli, but of various nationalities including Ukrainian, Filipino, and Mexican.
Saree said the “armed forces” were treating the crew members “in accordance with their Islamic values,” without providing further details. Meanwhile, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office claimed that the ship, called the Galaxy Leader, is owned by a British company and operated by a Japanese firm, although shipping databases indicate that the ship’s owners are associated with Ray Car Carriers, founded by Israeli billionaire Abraham “Rama” Ungar, as reported by the AP.
This incident is likely to further fuel concerns over third-party involvement in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, backed by Iran, to engage in a separate front against Israel and escalate the conflict in the region.
Israel responded to Hamas’s attacks with a bombardment of Gaza and recently ramped up ground attacks in the northern part of the enclave. According to Gaza’s Hamas-run government, over 13,000 Palestinians have been killed in the violence, albeit these numbers cannot be independently verified.
“Houthi militants’ seizure of the motor vessel Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea is a flagrant violation of international law,” a U.S. military official told The Hill. “We demand the immediate release of the ship and its crew.”
Following last month’s incidents where U.S. warships intercepted missiles or drones from Yemen believed to be heading towards Israel or American vessels, a U.S. Navy warship shot down a drone heading towards the ship in the southern Red Sea last week, according to the AP.
Furthermore, the Pentagon reported that a U.S. Navy destroyer intercepted a barrage of missiles fired by Houthi rebels. This comes amid a reported uptick in attacks against American troops and assets in the Middle East, leading the U.S. to launch retaliatory strikes on assets belonging to Iran and its proxies.
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