US Navy shoots down missiles, kills Houthi hijackers in Red Sea

US Navy helicopters destroyed three Houthi boats and killed the men aboard when they attempted to kidnap a commercial ship in the Red Sea. (CENTCOM)
US Navy helicopters destroyed three Houthi boats and killed the men aboard when they attempted to kidnap a commercial ship in the Red Sea. (CENTCOM)
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Updated 01 January 2024
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US Navy shoots down missiles, kills Houthi hijackers in Red Sea

US Navy helicopters destroyed three Houthi boats and killed the men aboard when they attempted to kidnap a commercial ship.
  • Militia overstepped the line by firing on a commercial ship and American helicopters, analyst says
  • First Houthi deaths by US troops reported since their Red Sea operations began in November 

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: US Navy helicopters destroyed three Houthi boats and killed the men aboard when they attempted to kidnap a commercial ship in the Red Sea, the first Houthi deaths by US troops since their operations in the busy waterway began in November. 

According to accounts by American, Maersk, and Houthi officials, the naval battle occurred around 0330 GMT on Sunday as the attackers sought to board the Singapore-flagged Maersk Hangzhou.

Helicopters from the USS Eisenhower and USS Gravely joined the ship’s security team in repelling the attackers after receiving a distress call on Sunday morning, said the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM), which is in charge of operations in the Middle East, Central Asia and parts of South Asia.
 




A 20mm Phalanx CIWS weapons defense cannon is mounted on the US Navy destroyer USS Gravely. The US military said on Dec. 31, 2023 the destroyer shot down two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired toward a container ship by Yemen's Houthi militia in the Red Sea. (AP/File)

The helicopters sank three boats, killing their crews, and one escaped after they attempted to shoot down the helicopters after failing to hijack the ship.

“The US Navy helicopters returned fire in self-defense, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews. The fourth boat fled the area. There was no damage to US personnel or equipment,” the US military said in a statement on social media platform X.

Earlier, CENTCOM reported that the USS Gravely — in response to a request for assistance from the container ship Maersk Hangzhou — shot down two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis from areas under their control in Yemen at commercial ships in the Red Sea, bringing the total of Houthi Red Sea attacks since Nov. 19 to 23.

The Red Sea is the entry point for ships using the Suez Canal, which handles about 12 percent of global trade and vital for the movement of goods between Asia and Europe.

A spokesman for the Houthis said the group carried out the attack because the ship’s crew refused to heed warning calls. He confirmed that 10 Houthi naval personnel were “dead and missing” after their boats were attacked by US forces in the Red Sea.

The Houthis have launched ballistic missiles and explosive-laden drones at commercial and naval ships in the Red Sea, threatening to block major trade routes for Israeli-linked or Israel-bound ships.

The Houthis claim that their activities are to help the Palestinians and intended to push Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza.

Yemen analysts say that the US Navy ship used force against the Houthis after they violated a red line by firing on US Navy helicopters.

Elisabeth Kendall, Middle East expert and head of Girton College at the University of Cambridge, said that the US Navy is now better prepared to repel and destroy Houthi attacks that imperil commercial and navy vessels, in contrast to November, when the Houthis commandeered the Galaxy Leader.

“The Houthis have for weeks been testing the limits of US tolerance and today they found out that the US does have red lines and will react forcefully when they are crossed,” she said.

She added: “The Houthis’ first ship hijacking of the Galaxy Leader in November took the world by surprise. This time, the US was prepared.

“The Houthis overstepped the line by firing on both the ship and the US Navy helicopters, a move which apparently justified the US lethal retaliation as self-defense.”

At the same time, the Houthis have reiterated their threats to strike US Navy ships if they attacked Yemen or stopped them from implementing their ban on Israel-bound ships, and they also organized protests in Yemeni cities under their control to condemn the US and Israel.

“This is a message to all enemies and their pawns that the Yemeni armed forces are ready for any confrontation with the actual enemy, America and Israel,” Houthi leader Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti told Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen TV news channel.

Experts believe that it is difficult to foresee Houthi retaliation for the deaths of their personnel in the Red Sea, or if the Houthi Red Sea strikes would spark an all-out conflict between the US-led maritime task forces that protect the Red Sea.

Kendall says that the Houthis are less eager to start a fight in the Red Sea because it would impede the UN-brokered peace talks that are supposed to give them legitimacy.

“Houthis are on the cusp of finding political legitimacy as part of a UN-mediated roadmap to resolve the Yemen war,” Kendall said.

“Entering a new international war would destroy their chances of becoming a recognized part of Yemen’s governance structure.”

Despite their commitment to support the UN Yemen envoy’s roadmap to end the war in Yemen, the Houthis have launched attacks on government troops in the besieged city of Taiz and launched an explosive-laden drone at a market in the southern province of Lahj, killing two civilians. 

Reluctant allies

The botched Houthi boarding operation was the second attack on the Maersk Hangzhou in as many days. The ship, which is carrying 14,000 containers en route from Singapore, was on Saturday hit by a missile about 55 nautical miles southwest of Al Hodeidah, Yemen.

The shipping company said that the crew of the Maersk Hangzhou crew was safe and there was no indication of fire onboard the vessel, which continued its journey north toward the Suez Canal.

The United States launched Operation Prosperity Guardian on Dec. 19, saying more than 20 countries had agreed to participate in the efforts to safeguard ships in Red Sea waters near Yemen.

However, attacks have continued and US allies have proven reluctant to commit to the coalition, with nearly half not declaring their presence publicly.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby declined to say what options the US is considering when asked on ABC’s “Good Morning America” if Washington would consider a preemptive strike on the Houthis.

“We have made it clear publicly to the Houthis, we’ve made it clear privately to our allies and partners in the region, that we take these threats seriously.”

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said on Sunday that he had told Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in a call that Iran should help stop the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

“I made clear that Iran shares responsibility for preventing these attacks, given their long-standing support to the Houthis,” Cameron said in a post on social media site X, adding that the attacks “threaten innocent lives and the global economy.”

 

 

The BIMCO shipping association condemned the attacks and thanked those states involved in repelling them.

“We are thankful to US, French, and UK efforts so far and hope even more states will support the coalition with naval assets or other impactful means including diplomatic pressure on the Houthis and their sponsors,” Jakob Larsen, BIMCO’s head of maritime safety and security, told Reuters.

(With Agencies)


Kuwait economic fund signs coordination MoU with ILO

Kuwait economic fund signs coordination MoU with ILO
Updated 19 April 2024
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Kuwait economic fund signs coordination MoU with ILO

Kuwait economic fund signs coordination MoU with ILO
  • MoU aims to coordinate joint actions in economic and social development in developing countries

WASHINGTON: The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development has agreed a memorandum of understanding with the International Labor Organization to enhance development cooperation, Kuwait News Agency reported.
The MoU was signed by KFAED Acting Director General Waleed AI-Bahar and ILO Assistant Director General for External and Corporate Relations Laura Thompson on the sidelines of the 2024 spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington DC.
The MoU establishes a framework for technical cooperation and aims to coordinate joint actions in economic and social development in developing countries. This includes exchanging expertise and information in economic, financial and commercial sectors.
The five-year renewable agreement focuses on collaborative activities aligned with the goals of both organizations in the countries in which they operate. The partnership will also involve sharing resources in areas of mutual interest such as statistics, policy enhancement, youth economic empowerment, gender equality at work, crisis response and South-South cooperation.
Regular consultations are planned to ensure effective coordination of operations in the targeted nations.
 


International reactions after Israel’s reported attack on Iran

International reactions after Israel’s reported attack on Iran
Updated 19 April 2024
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International reactions after Israel’s reported attack on Iran

International reactions after Israel’s reported attack on Iran
  • Widespread calls for utmost restraint between Iran and Israel to avoid serious repercussions

PARIS: Here are some international reactions Friday after Israel’s reported attack on the Iranian province of Isfahan, where it has military bases and nuclear facilities:

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTONIO GUTERRES

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated that it was “high time to stop the dangerous cycle of retaliation in the Middle East,” his spokesperson said in a statement.

“The Secretary-General condemns any act of retaliation and appeals to the international community to work together to prevent any further development that could lead to devastating consequences for the entire region and beyond,” Stephane Dujarric said.
RUSSIA
Russia has made clear to Israel that Iran “does not want escalation,” Moscow’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday, after reports Israel had carried out retaliatory strikes against its arch-rival.
“There have been telephone contacts between the leadership of Russia and Iran, our representatives and the Israelis. We made it very clear in these conversations, we told the Israelis that Iran does not want escalation,” Lavrov said in an interview with Russian radio stations.

UAE
The United Arab Emirates’ foreign ministry on Friday expressed concern about regional tensions in a statement, calling for ‘utmost restraint’ to avoid serious repercussions.
JORDAN
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Friday Israeli-Iranian retaliations must end, warning against danger of regional escalation.
GERMANY
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for de-escalation following a strike on the Iranian city of Isfahan and said Berlin would work with its partners in this direction.
“De-escalation remains the order of the day in the near future. And we will also talk about this with all our friends and allies, and work together with them in this direction,” Scholz told reporters on Friday.
G7

G7 foreign ministers Friday urged “all parties” to “work to prevent further escalation” in the Middle East, following reports that Israel had carried out revenge strikes on Iran.

“In light of reports of strikes on April 19th, we urge all parties to work to prevent further escalation. The G7 will continue to work to this end,” the Group of Seven industrialized nations said in a statement.

The ministers from Italy, the UK, US, France, Germany, Japan and Canada said they “demand that Iran and its affiliated groups cease their attacks”.

SPAIN

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called Friday for all sides to avoid “an escalation of the conflict in the Middle East” after reports that Israel carried out retaliatory strikes on Iran.

“We must avoid any action that would lead to an escalation of the conflict in the Middle East. The seriousness of the moment demands responsibility and restraint from all parties,” he wrote on X.

JAPAN’S CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY YOSHIMASA HAYASHI

“Japan is deeply concerned about the situation in the Middle East and strongly condemn any actions that lead to the escalation of the situation.

“Japan will continue to make all necessary diplomatic efforts to prevent the situation from worsening further.”
CHINA
“China opposes any actions that further escalate tensions and will continue to play a constructive role to de-escalate the situation,” said foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian.
IAEA
“IAEA can confirm that there is no damage to Iran’s nuclear sites. Director General Rafael Grossi continues to call for extreme restraint from everybody and reiterates that nuclear facilities should never be a target in military conflicts. IAEA is monitoring the situation very closely,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said on X.
OMAN
“The Sultanate of Oman is following the continuing tension in the region and condemns the Israeli attack this morning on Isfahan,” the foreign ministry said, adding that it also “condemns and denounces Israel’s repeated military attacks in the region.
“Oman once again appeals to the international community to address the causes and roots of tension and conflict through dialogue, diplomacy and political solutions, and to focus on ceasefire efforts in Gaza and resort to international law and United Nations resolutions to reach a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian issue.”
EC PRESIDENT URSULA VON DER LEYEN
“We have to do everything possible (so) that all sides restrain from the escalation in that region ... It is absolutely necessary that the region stays stable and that all sides refrain from further action,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
UK
“We have condemned Iran’s reckless and dangerous barrage of missiles against Israel on Saturday and Israel absolutely has a right to self-defense. But as I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu when I spoke to him (this week) and more generally, significant escalation is not in anyone’s interest, what we want to see is calm heads prevail across the region,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.
ITALY
“We invite everyone to be cautious to avoid an escalation,” Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told RAI news on Capri where Italy is hosting a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven nations.
“This is something we from the government’s side take very seriously and are following very closely,” Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said.
“There has to be an end to the exchange of blows and escalation.”


Gazans cool down in seawater despite nearby Israeli vessels

Gazans cool down in seawater despite nearby Israeli vessels
Updated 19 April 2024
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Gazans cool down in seawater despite nearby Israeli vessels

Gazans cool down in seawater despite nearby Israeli vessels
  • Soaring temperatures in the embattled Palestinian enclave have prompted Gazan children to resort to the sea

RAFAH: Soaring temperatures in Gaza during the past week have driven thousands in the enclave’s southern city of Rafah to seek respite on beaches.

The proximity to Israeli military vessels did not stop hundreds of war-weary Gazans from bringing their children to enjoy a day of paddling and swimming, according to Arab News’ reporter in the embattled Palestinian enclave.

Many of the 1.4 million displaced Palestinians in Rafah live in makeshift shelters, including tents, on the beach, near the Egyptian border.

Since the Israeli onslaught on the Gaza Strip broke out on Oct. 7 last year, Gazans have been forced to resort to salty seawater for washing, bathing and even drinking due to the collapse of the water system.


Dubai carrier Emirates suspends check-in for onward connections, flydubai cancels Iran flights

Dubai carrier Emirates suspends check-in for onward connections, flydubai cancels Iran flights
Updated 19 April 2024
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Dubai carrier Emirates suspends check-in for onward connections, flydubai cancels Iran flights

Dubai carrier Emirates suspends check-in for onward connections, flydubai cancels Iran flights
  • Dubai International Airport temporarily limiting the number of arriving flights for 48 hours from 12 p.m. on Friday

DUBAI: Dubai’s flagship airline Emirates is suspending check-in for all customers with onward connections through the city until 2359 GMT on Friday, three days after a record storm swept the United Arab Emirates.

Emirates, one of the world’s biggest international airlines, said customers traveling to Dubai as their final destination may check-in and travel as usual.

The suspension shows the airline and its hub, Dubai International Airport, are still struggling to clear a backlog of flights after the UAE saw its heaviest rains in the 75 years records have been kept, bringing much of the country to a standstill for two days and causing significant damage.

Dubai International airport, one of the world’s busiest, later said it was temporarily limiting the number of arriving flights for 48 hours from 12 p.m. on Friday to speed up recovery operations from rain and flooding.

Thousands of passengers have been affected by flight cancelations this week, Dubai Airports Chief Executive Paul Griffiths told local radio station Dubai Eye on Friday, after the storm flooded taxiways.

The storm, which hit neighboring Oman on Sunday, pounded the UAE on Tuesday, with 20 reported dead in Oman and one in the UAE.

Dubai’s budget carrier flydubai meanwhile canceled flights to Iran on Friday after receiving an official alert, a statement said.

“In line with the issued NOTAM (notice to air missions), our flights to Iran today have been canceled,” said the statement.

One flight which had already departed for Tehran returned to Dubai after the Iranian capital’s airport was closed, it added.

Flights were suspended across swathes of Iran as Iranian state media reported explosions in the central province of Isfahan.

Flight-tracking software showed commercial flights avoiding western Iran, including Isfahan, and skirting Tehran to the north and east.

The main road that connects the UAE’s most populous emirate Dubai with Abu Dhabi remains partially closed, while an alternative route into Dubai requires vehicles to use a road that is entirely covered in floodwater where cars and buses have been abandoned.

In the UAE’s north, including in the emirate of Sharjah, people were reportedly still trapped in their homes, while others there said there had been extensive damage to businesses.

Rains are rare in the UAE and elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, which is typically known for its dry desert climate where summer air temperatures can soar above 50 degrees Celsius.

The UAE’s National Center of Meteorology said on social platform X that Monday may see light rainfall by late night and forecast “a chance of light to moderate rainfall, might be heavy at times over some areas” for Tuesday, with a fall in temperatures over some coastal areas.


Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes

Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes
Updated 19 April 2024
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Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes

Iran closes air space, commercial flights diverted after apparent Israeli retaliatory strikes
  • Drones shot down over Isfahan, says Iranian state media
  • Israel military refuses to comment on incident

DUBAI/WASHINGTON: Israeli missiles have hit a site in Iran, ABC News reported late on Thursday, citing a US official, while Iranian state media reported an explosion in the center of the country, days after Iran launched a retaliatory drone strike on Israel.

Commercial flights began diverting their routes early Friday morning over western Iran without explanation as one semiofficial news agency in the Islamic Republic claimed there had been “explosions” heard over the city of Isfahan.

Some Emirates and Flydubai flights that were flying over Iran early on Friday made sudden sharp turns away from the airspace, according to flight paths shown on tracking website Flightradar24.

“Flights over Isfahan, Shiraz and Tehran cities have been suspended,” state media reported.

Iranian officials said its air defenses did shot down several drones but there had been “no missile attack for now” on the country.

The state-run IRNA news agency reported that Iran fired air defense batteries early Friday morning across several provinces after reports of explosions near the city of Isfahan.

Several drones “have been successfully shot down by the country’s air defense, there are no reports of a missile attack for now,” Iran’s space agency spokesman Hossein Dalirian says on X.

The Fars news agency said “three explosions” were heard near the Shekari army airbase near Isfahan.

Iran’s local media also reported that nuclear facilities in Isfahan were “completely secure” after explosions were heard near the area.

“Nuclear facilities in Isfahan province are completely secure,” Tasnim news agency reports, quoting “reliable sources.”

Israel had said it would retaliate against Iran’s weekend attack, which involved hundreds of drones and missiles in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike on its embassy compound in Syria. Most of the Iranian drones and missiles were downed before reaching Israeli territory.

Several Iranian nuclear sites are located in Isfahan province, including Natanz, centerpiece of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Isfahan, Isome 350 kilometers (215 miles) south of Iran’s capital, Tehran, is also home to a major air base for the Iranian military.

Meanwhile in Iraq where a number of Iranian-backed militias are based, residents in Baghdad reported hearing sounds of explosions, but the source of the noise was not immediately clear.

In Syria, a local activist group said strikes hit an army position in the south of the country Friday. 

“There were strikes on a Syrian army radar position,” said Rayan Maarouf, who runs the Suwayda24 anti-government website that covers news from Sweida province in the south.

Iranian military positions in Syria had been frequently targetted by Israeli air strikes over the past years. Early this month, an Israeli strike demolished a consular building annex of the Iranian Embassy in Sydia's capital Damascus, killing 13 people, including two generals of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, triggering the Iranian missiles and drones attack on Israel on April 13.

At the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, Iran urged member nations that Israel “must be compelled to stop any further military adventurism against our interests” as the UN secretary-general warned that the Middle East was in a “moment of maximum peril.”

Israel had said it was going to retaliate against Iran’s April 13 missile and drone attack.

Analysts and observers have been raising concerns about the risks of the Israel-Gaza war spreading into the rest of the region.

Oil prices and jumped on the reports of the Israeli strike. Brent crude futures rose 2 percent to $88.86 a barrel, the dollar gained broadly, gold rose 1 percent and S&P 500 futures dropped 1 percent.

Israel’s assault on Gaza began after Palestinian Islamist group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s military offensive has killed over 33,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the local health ministry.
Iran-backed groups have declared support for Palestinians, launching attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq.