Is ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza a euphemism for total destruction?

Special Is ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza a euphemism for total destruction?
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A picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on Dec. 10, 2023, shows Israeli armored personnel carriers driving along the border fence as smoke rises above the Palestinian enclave amid ongoing battles with the Palestinian Hamas militant group. (AFP)
Special Is ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza a euphemism for total destruction?
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Rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel on Dec. 9, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2023

Is ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza a euphemism for total destruction?

Is ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza a euphemism for total destruction?
  • Term used by Israeli PM Netanyahu faulted by experts for not offering clarity on status of Gaza once war is over
  • West Bank-style system would mean loss of space for movement Palestinians had under Hamas rule

LONDON: Israel’s endgame for Gaza appears now firmly set on the enclave’s demilitarization, but some experts say that goal and “total destruction” in this conflict have become indistinguishable.

Even as the fighting between Israel and Hamas militants entered its third month on Dec. 7, precisely who would govern war-devastated Gaza after the dismantling of the Palestinian militant group remained unclear.

Talk about the West Bank-based Palestine government taking charge of postwar Gaza’s governance has been doing the rounds, though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has poured cold water on the idea, saying “the Palestinian Authority is not the solution.”

So, what do experts make of Netanyahu’s statement that the Israel Defense Forces will move to demilitarize Gaza, which is still regarded by the UN as occupied territory?

Tobias Borck, a senior research fellow for Middle East security at the Royal United Services Institute, believes the latest remarks represent no change in Israeli policy.

“Those comments were simply meant to justify what the Israeli military was already doing in Gaza. It is little more than a rhetorical switch, a new way of saying ‘destroy Hamas.’ But it is not one offering a clearer, more tangible image of what that looks like,” he told Arab News.

“So, when they say ‘demilitarization,’ this is nothing new, the Israeli argument across almost the entire political spectrum has been that even were there to be an independent Palestinian state, it would have to be demilitarized.”

Israeli soldiers are seen during a ground operation in the Gaza Strip on Nov. 22, 2023. (AP)

On Dec. 6, Netanyahu said the IDF alone would be responsible for demilitarizing Gaza, claiming that international forces would be incapable of achieving success.

Speaking in Hebrew, he said: “Gaza must be demilitarized, only the IDF can take care of this. No international force can. We saw what happened elsewhere when international forces tried this. I am not willing to close my eyes and accept any other arrangement.”

Borck rejected the notion that Netanyahu was warning external actors to stay away, since neighboring Arab states have already called Gaza a mess of Israel’s own making and therefore one it alone would be required to clear up.

As it stands, that “mess” amounts to over 17,700 civilians killed in the two-month assault, a further 7,800 still unaccounted for, more than 46,000 injured, and Gaza’s Hamas-run health authorities alleging that the “war on hospitals and the enclave’s medical facilities is ongoing and does not stop.”

Palestinians crowd together at a food distribution center in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on Nov. 8, 2023. (AP)

In the midst of such destruction, Palestinian author and journalist Ramzy Baroud said he saw little likelihood of Israeli success in efforts to demilitarize Gaza, noting that for Netanyahu to achieve this would first require him to have control over it.

“To do so, he would have to defeat the resistance. Even if Netanyahu’s army penetrates parts of Gaza, from the north, center or south, subduing Palestinians in one of the most rebellious regions on earth is not only a difficult task but it is virtually impossible,” he told Arab News.

“This isn’t just about firepower, it is about the collective mood among Gazans, in fact, all Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.”


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Similarly skeptical about the prospect of Gaza’s complete demilitarization, Osama Al-Sharif, a Jordanian analyst and political columnist, told Arab News such an outcome would only be possible with Gaza’s total destruction.

“To believe that Israel can disarm Gaza means that it will have to level the entire 365 sq. km area to the ground and evacuate all the population, but the window of opportunity for the military operation is closing soon,” he continued.

“So, both goals will not be achieved unless the US allows for a biblical-like catastrophe where millions of people are driven into the desert under unprecedented and relentless bombing, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths.”

Smoke rises among destroyed buildings in northern Gaza on December 8, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

Together with the escalating death toll, by the end of November some 98,000 buildings in Gaza had reportedly been destroyed, with estimates suggesting that 40 percent of the entire enclave was now existent only in a state of rubble.

Pointing at this, Borck stressed that what Al-Sharif defined as the only possible means of demilitarization was already playing out.

“All of this revolves around Israel’s understanding of Hamas, which tells Israel that Hamas is a terrorist military. This is an important distinction from simply being a terrorist organization as it means Hamas is capable of a combined arms maneuver,” he said.

“This is exactly what we saw on Oct. 7, with an air and land attack on Israel. So, it is a not an unjustified view, but it does mean that Hamas is the military presence in Gaza. The IDF is trying to destroy all of Hamas’ military capacity and, once that is achieved, Gaza is demilitarized.”

Children stand alongside fighters from the Al-Qassam Brigades in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 29, 2023, on the 6th day of a truce in battles between Israel and Hamas. (AFP/File)

Were Israel though to follow through and successfully achieve its aim of demilitarization, Borck said that there was only one outcome for Gaza.

“There is a significant collective of Israelis around Netanyahu that see the future of Gaza as a reflection of the West Bank, which means a Palestinian leadership put in place to run schools, hospitals, and to collect garbage, ideally also running domestic policing,” he said.

Bloomberg News reported this week, citing Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, that American officials were working with the PA on a plan to run Gaza after the war is over.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and his cabinet pray for the victims killed during the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. (AFP/File photo)

The preferred outcome of the conflict would be for Hamas to become a junior partner under the Palestinian Liberation Organization, helping to build a new independent state that includes the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, Ramallah-based Shtayyeh said.

However, according to Borck, a replication of the West Bank governance model in Gaza is far from ideal. “It would be replete with the Israeli-run checkpoints that you find all across the West Bank and would be a total reordering of the way Gazans live,” he said. “Yes, in Gaza there was this force keeping them hemmed in, but within that space they could move with greater freedom than Palestinians in the West Bank.”

Stressing that he did not consider it “a good idea in any shape or form” and rather just what he saw as playing out, Borck said this also likely meant Israel would occupy the least populated part of Gaza “so it could move in and out whenever it perceived a threat.”

Concurring, Al-Sharif said Israel appeared to be working to create a buffer zone in the north while pushing the majority of Gaza’s 2.1 million population to the south and along the border with Egypt, adding “even then, this goal will not be easy to sustain.”

The Israeli military offensive has displaced, left, more than 1.7 million Palestinians, most of them women and children. (AP)

Such a move could put it into the path of a direct confrontation with the Biden administration, which has been clear in its desire for the Palestinian Authority to take control of Gaza when the fighting ends.

Al-Sharif added: “Ramallah has put its own conditions for this to happen; none of which Netanyahu will accept. The US is against any forced transfer of Gazans, the partition of the enclave, or reducing its pre-war area.”

And, despite its continuing veto usage in UN calls for a ceasefire, there is increasing pushback from within the Democratic administration over the way in which the conflict has been unfolding and a seeming retraction of what had been seen as total and unconditional support for Israel’s response to Oct. 7.

On Thursday night, the administration’s top diplomat was seen to have come his closest yet to an outright criticism of the way the Netanyahu government had been handling the war as he sought to re-emphasize the primacy of civilian safety.

Stood alongside UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said: “It remains imperative Israel put a premium on civilian protection. And there does remain a gap between ... the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground.”

Baroud said the Israelis would be wise to learn from “one of Israel's great military generals, the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,” who was responsible for the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza after 38 years of occupation.

“Under pressure from the Palestinian resistance that fought the Israeli army, which had occupied Gaza in June 1967, in every neighborhood and every street corner, Israel pulled out,” Baroud said, reiterating his position that demilitarization was an impossible task.

“Back then, the resistance fought with very few tools compared to its current military capabilities, yet Sharon knew he could not win in Gaza, thus ordering his army to retreat, or ‘redeploy,’ under the pressure of relentless resistance, carried out mostly by ordinary people.”


US says Yemen’s Houthis targeted bulk carrier bound for port of Aden

An oil tanker is anchored off Yemen's southern port city of Aden.. (AFP file photo)
An oil tanker is anchored off Yemen's southern port city of Aden.. (AFP file photo)
Updated 32 min 18 sec ago

US says Yemen’s Houthis targeted bulk carrier bound for port of Aden

An oil tanker is anchored off Yemen's southern port city of Aden.. (AFP file photo)

CAIRO: Yemen’s Houthis on Feb. 19 fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles at M/V Sea Champion, a Greek-flagged, US-owned bulk carrier bound for Yemen’s port of Aden, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Wednesday.
One of the missiles detonated near the ship, which is linked to humanitarian aid, causing minor damage, CENTCOM said in a statement.


Attacks on ships and US drones show Yemen’s Houthis can still fight despite US-led airstrikes

Members of Houthi military forces parade in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen September 1, 2022. (REUTERS)
Members of Houthi military forces parade in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen September 1, 2022. (REUTERS)
Updated 21 February 2024

Attacks on ships and US drones show Yemen’s Houthis can still fight despite US-led airstrikes

Members of Houthi military forces parade in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen September 1, 2022. (REUTERS)
  • Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Despite a month of US-led airstrikes, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels remain capable of launching significant attacks. This week, they seriously damaged a ship in a crucial strait and apparently downed an American drone worth tens of millions of dollars.
The continued assaults by the Houthis on shipping through the crucial Red Sea corridor — the Bab el-Mandeb Strait — against the backdrop of Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip underscore the challenges in trying to stop the guerrilla-style attacks they have used to hold onto Yemen’s capital and much of the war-ravaged country’s north since 2014.
The campaign has boosted the rebels’ standing in the Arab world, despite their human rights abuses in a yearslong stalemated war with several of America’s allies in the region. Analysts warn that the longer the Houthis’ attacks go on, the greater the risk that disruptions to international shipping will begin to weigh on the global economy.
On Monday, both the Houthis and Western officials acknowledged one of the most serious attacks on shipping launched by the rebels. The Houthis targeted the Belize-flagged bulk carrier Rubymar with two anti-ship ballistic missiles, and one struck the vessel, the US military’s Central Command said.
The Rubymar, which reported problems with its propulsion in November, apparently became inoperable, forcing her crew to abandon the vessel.
Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree claimed on Monday night that the Rubymar sank. However, satellite images from Planet Labs PBC analyzed by The Associated Press showed the Rubymar still afloat at 2 p.m. local time Tuesday just north of the Bab el-Mandeb. A large oil slick trailed the vessel.
The Rubymar attack marked one of a few direct, serious hits by the Houthi rebels on shipping. In late January, another direct hit set a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker ablaze for hours.
Meanwhile, the Houthis early Tuesday released footage of what they described as a surface-to-air missile bringing down a US MQ-9 Reaper drone off the coast of Hodeida, a Yemeni port city they hold on the Red Sea. The footage included a video of men dragging pieces of debris from the water onto a beach.
Images of the debris, which included writing in English and what seemed to be electrical equipment, appeared to correspond to known pieces of the Reaper, usually used in attack missions and surveillance flights. A US defense official acknowledged Tuesday an MQ-9 “crashed off the coast of Yemen,” without elaborating.
In November, the Pentagon acknowledged the loss of an MQ-9, also shot down by the rebels over the Red Sea.
Since the Houthis seized the country’s north and its capital of Sanaa in 2014, the US military has lost at least four drones to shootdowns by the rebels — in 2017, 2019 and this year.
Meanwhile, the Houthis claimed an attack on the Sea Champion, a Greek-flagged, US-owned bulk carrier bound for Aden, Yemen, carrying grain from Argentina.
The rebels separately claimed an attack on the Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier Navis Fortuna, a ship that had been broadcasting its destination as Italy with an “all Chinese” crew to avoid being targeted. Private security firm Ambrey reported that the vessel sustained minor damage in a drone attack.
The US shot down 10 bomb-carrying Houthi drones, as well as a cruise missile heading toward the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Laboon over the last day, Central Command said Tuesday. The US military also conducted strikes targeting a Houthi surface-to-air missile launcher and a drone prior to its launch.
The Houthis acknowledged the drone attacks and claimed other assaults not immediately acknowledged by the West.
Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe. Those vessels have included at least one with cargo for Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor.
The European Union has launched its own campaign to protect shipping, with member France saying on Tuesday that it shot down two Houthi drones overnight in the Red Sea.
So far, no US sailor or pilot has been wounded by the Houthis since America launched its airstrikes targeting the rebels in January. However, the US continues to lose drones worth tens of millions of dollars and fire million-dollar cruise missiles to counter the Houthis, who are using far cheaper weapons that experts believe largely have been supplied by Iran.
Based on US military statements, American and allied forces have destroyed at least 73 missiles of different types before they were launched, as well as 17 drones, 13 bomb-laden drone boats and one underwater explosive drone over their monthlong campaign, according to an AP tally. Those figures don’t include the initial Jan. 11 joint US-UK strikes that began the campaign. The American military also has shot down dozens of missiles and drones already airborne since November.
The Houthis haven’t offered much information regarding their losses, though they’ve acknowledged at least 22 of their fighters have been killed in the American-led strikes. Insurgent forces including the Houthis and allied tribes in Yemen number around 20,000 fighters, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. They can operate in small units away from military bases, making targeting them more difficult.
The Houthis may view the costs as balanced by their sudden fame within an Arab world enraged by the killing of women and civilians by Israel in Gaza.
In the past, others — including the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — have used the Palestinians’ plight to justify their “actions and garner support,” wrote Fatima Abo Alasrar, a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
“It legitimizes the Houthis’ actions in the eyes of those who sympathize with the Palestinian cause, distracts from the more immediate issues associated with the Yemen conflict and the failures of Houthi governance, and potentially broadens the base of their support beyond Yemen’s borders,” Alasrar added.
If the Houthi attacks continue, it could force the US to intensify and widen its counterattacks across an already volatile Mideast.
“Without a ceasefire in Gaza, the Houthis could be tempted to further escalate against US interests in the Red Sea and in the region,” wrote Eleonora Ardemagni, a fellow at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies.
For Washington, “deterrence options” are getting narrower, she added.


Two killed in Iraq strike blamed on Turkiye

Two killed in Iraq strike blamed on Turkiye
Updated 21 February 2024

Two killed in Iraq strike blamed on Turkiye

Two killed in Iraq strike blamed on Turkiye
  • Turkiye has over the past 25 years operated several dozen military bases in northern Iraq in its war against the PKK

IRBIL, Iraq: Two people were killed Tuesday in a strike in northern Iraq that was blamed on Turkiye, security and health officials said.
Turkiye frequently carries out ground and air offensives on positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state — in northern Iraq.
“Two civilians were killed and another injured in a Turkish strike” on a remote village in the mountainous region of Akre in Dohuk province, a security official said, requesting anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media.
A health official in the region confirmed the death toll, and said that two others were wounded. He didn’t specify if those killed were civilians.
The Turkish military rarely comments on its operations in Iraq.
Turkiye has over the past 25 years operated several dozen military bases in northern Iraq in its war against the PKK.
A Turkish soldier was killed and another injured in an “attempted intrusion” of a Turkish military base in northern Iraq blamed on the PKK, Turkiye’s defense ministry said on Saturday.
Attacks on Turkish military bases in northern Iraq in December and January killed 18 soldiers.
Both Baghdad and the regional government of the Iraqi Kurdistan region have been accused of tolerating Turkiye’s military activities to preserve their close economic ties.
In October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would “continue to intensify” its strikes against the PKK in Iraq and neighboring Syria, which Ankara and its Western allies consider a “terrorist” group.

Ankara, Cairo mend ties, signaling challenges for the Muslim Brotherhood

Ankara, Cairo mend ties, signaling challenges for the Muslim Brotherhood
Updated 20 February 2024

Ankara, Cairo mend ties, signaling challenges for the Muslim Brotherhood

Ankara, Cairo mend ties, signaling challenges for the Muslim Brotherhood
  • Erdogan is sending a message that Turkiye is distancing itself from anti-Western elements in the region

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo on Feb. 14 as part of a major state visit intended to boost the gradual normalization between the two countries that started in 2021, with plans for El-Sisi to visit Turkiye in April.

In the aftermath of the visit, it emerged that Turkish authorities revoked the citizenship request of reported Muslim Brotherhood Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein Ahmed Hassan, drawing speculation on the motives behind the decision.

Erdogan’s visit signaled a shift in Turkiye’s stance toward the Muslim Brotherhood, a pivotal factor in thawing tensions between the two nations.

Al-Arabiya reported Hussein has offloaded his property in Istanbul, engaging in discussions with Muslim Brotherhood officials on potential courses of action, including a resolution with Turkish authorities or seeking an alternative place of residence.

Turkiye has undertaken measures over the past two years to address Egypt’s demands for crackdowns on exiled Muslim Brotherhood members and the closure of Istanbul-based media outlets critical of the Egyptian government. Consequently, prominent Muslim Brotherhood figures, media personalities, and academics have begun leaving Turkiye, while Egyptian dissidents face social media restrictions imposed by Turkish authorities.

In 2022, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Egyptian satellite TV channel, Mekameleen TV, relocated its operations from Turkiye, underscoring shifts in regional dynamics. Last year marked a significant milestone as Egypt and Turkiye appointed ambassadors to each other’s capitals for the first time in a decade. The Feb. 14 Cairo meeting, along with El-Sisi’s planned visit to Turkiye in April, are a further signal of the desire for diplomatic normality.

Soner Cagaptay, senior fellow at The Washington Institute, told Arab News: “The reconciliation with Egypt represents the final and most challenging aspect of Turkiye’s ongoing efforts to reset relations with Middle Eastern powers. For nearly a decade, Turkish relations with countries in the Middle East were strained primarily due to Ankara’s unilateral support for the Muslim Brotherhood starting in 2011. While Turkiye gradually repaired ties with other nations, Egypt remained the last hurdle, as President El-Sisi has insisted on concrete steps from Turkiye to crack down on exiled Muslim Brotherhood members residing within its borders.”

Despite recent warm exchanges aimed at repairing ties, experts stress the importance of addressing the Libyan conflict before genuine cooperation can be achieved, as two countries have frequently found themselves at odds in their support for rival governments in the North African country.

“As an additional, yet unspoken aspect of the reconciliation process, negotiations between Ankara and Cairo have also touched upon a potential power-sharing agreement for Libya, seeking a common understanding of the Libyan conflict. Egypt views the eastern part of the North African country as within its sphere of influence,” Cagaptay said.

Ankara recently began to talk to various actors in Libya rather than limiting itself to the Government of National Accord, one of the two rival governments that emerged in the war-torn country.

On Saturday Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan held consultations with his Italian counterpart, Antonio Tajani, on the situation in Libya on the sidelines of the 16th Munich Security Conference, coinciding with the diplomatic efforts between Ankara and Cairo.

Fidan also met Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah in Tripoli two weeks ago before separate meetings with Mohammed Al-Manfi, head of the Libyan Presidential Council, the council’s deputy head, Abdullah Al-Lafi, and Mohammed Muftah Takala, president of Libya’s High Council of State.

“Turkiye’s treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood elements is part of its rapprochement process with Egypt, determined by both internal and external motivations,” Pinar Akpinar, assistant professor at the Department of International Affairs and Gulf Studies Program at Qatar University, told Arab News.

“The primary internal motivation is the anticipated elections, which are overshadowed by the severe economic crisis Turkiye faces. The resignation of the latest chief of the central bank, Hafize Gaye Erkan, only nine months after resuming her duties, has further eroded trust among the people and investors in the Turkish economy,” she added.

According to Akpinar, as an important regional power and Turkiye’s largest trade partner in Africa, rapprochement with Egypt allows Erdogan to present a success story before the elections, both politically and economically.

“Erdogan is sending a message that he is strengthening his alliance with the West, evident in Turkiye’s support for Sweden’s NATO membership, rapprochement with Egypt, and distancing from anti-Western elements in the region,” she said.

“It should also be noted that, for the first time, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin refrains from supporting Erdogan in elections and has postponed his planned visit to Turkiye, expected to take place last week. As such, Erdogan is leaning towards and seeking support from Turkiye’s traditional allies for this election and his rapprochement with Sisi as a strong Western ally of recent years, is part of this narrative.”

In the meantime, Fidan said an agreement had been finalized to provide drones to Egypt earlier this month.

Greek ship attacked in Red Sea by Houthis arrives in Aden with cargo

Greek ship attacked in Red Sea by Houthis arrives in Aden with cargo
Updated 20 February 2024

Greek ship attacked in Red Sea by Houthis arrives in Aden with cargo

Greek ship attacked in Red Sea by Houthis arrives in Aden with cargo
  • The Sea Champion was attacked twice on Monday with a window damaged but no crew injuries

LONDON/ADEN/ATHENS: The Greek-flagged bulker Sea Champion arrived in the southern Yemeni Port of Aden on Tuesday after being attacked in the Red Sea in what appeared to have been a mistaken missile strike by the Houthi militia, sources said.

Shipping risks are escalating due to repeated drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea and Bab Al-Mandab Strait by the Iran-aligned Houthis since November. US and British forces have responded with several attacks on Houthi facilities but have so far failed to halt the attacks.

The Sea Champion, which was taking grain from Argentina to Aden, the seat of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, was attacked twice on Monday, with a window damaged but no crew injuries, Greek Shipping Ministry sources said.

A port source in Aden and a separate shipping source said the vessel was discharging part of its cargo of some 9,229 tonnes in Aden before heading to the northern Port of Hodeidah, an area controlled by the Houthis.

The port source in Aden, who declined to be identified, said the attack on the vessel was a mistake. A separate port source in Hodeidah, who also declined to be identified, said the Houthis informed them the attack was not intentional.

Houthi officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

The vessel’s Athens-based operator Mega Shipping and Greek Shipping Ministry officials declined to comment on the vessel’s arrival.

The Sea Champion was anchored in Aden Port with its last position updated at 1211 GMT, according to data from ship tracking and maritime analytics provider MarineTraffic.

The Houthis, who control Yemen’s most populous regions, have attacked vessels with commercial ties to the US, Britain and Israel, shipping and insurance sources say.

Despite Western attacks on them in Yemen, the Houthis have vowed to continue striking ships linked to Israel until attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip stop.

Shipping sources said the Sea Champion, which had made grain deliveries in the past to Yemen, had US ownership links.

So far, no ships have been sunk nor crew killed from the attacks in a sea lane accounting for about 12 percent of global maritime traffic.

Nonetheless, concerns were mounting over the fate of the Rubymar ship, which was hit by missiles in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday, despite the crew evacuating onto another ship.

In a maritime advisory seen by Reuters, commercial ships were cautioned to stay away from the area of the abandoned vessel amid fears it might sink.

A US defense official said the vessel had not sunk.

Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, the leading union organization for seafarers, said the Rubymar attack should be a wake up call “to immediately prioritize seafarers’ safety, before we see human lives lost on the Red Sea.”

He said an immediate, permanent Gaza ceasefire was a critical step to guaranteeing safe transit through the Red Sea.

There was also alarm that commercial ships could face new perils including the possibility of sea mines being deployed, maritime security sources said.

The US military’s Central Command said on Feb. 17 it had conducted self-defense strikes on various targets including one unmanned underwater vessel, which it said was “the first observed Houthi employment of a UUV since attacks began on Oct. 23.”

While many ships have opted to divert around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, some have continued to sail through.

French container shipping group CMA CGM said on Tuesday its Jules Verne vessel had transited the Red Sea under French naval escort, after suspending crossings for security risks earlier this month.

The European Union on Monday launched a naval mission to the Red Sea to “safeguard freedom of navigation” there amid hopes of more protection and support for commercial shipping. France has provided navy escorts in recent weeks for some shipping traffic including French-linked vessels.