AL-MUKALLA: The US Central Command said on Thursday morning, Yemen time, that its forces had destroyed four drones in an area controlled by the Houthi militia, thwarting a strike on ships in international commercial waterways.

“These actions are taken to protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for US, coalition, and merchant vessels,” CENTCOM said in a statement.

This is the latest round of US military operations against sites in Yemen under Houthi control to pre-emptively destroy drones and missiles before they can be used against commercial and navy ships in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab Strait and Gulf of Aden.

The CENTCOM announcement came as Houthi officials reaffirmed their warnings to expand their assaults on ships if Israel did not halt its war in the Gaza Strip. 

Mahdi Al-Mashat, leader of the militia’s Supreme Political Council, said that they will launch attacks on ships during the fourth phase of their campaign in support of Palestine, which involves targeting ships in the Mediterranean until Israel ends the war and the blockade of Gaza.

“We have decisive, bold, and difficult choices if the aggression against our people in Gaza continues,” Al-Mashat said, according to the Houthi-run Saba news agency.

The militia’s leader, Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, said on Thursday that his forces had fired 211 missiles at Israel and carried out more than 100 attacks on US warships in the Red Sea since the start of their campaign in November.

He urged Iraqis to join them in their operations to support the Palestinian people.

“Companies that transport goods to the Israeli enemy will have their ships attacked anywhere within reach of the Yemeni army’s capabilities,” Al-Houthi said. 

Since November, the Houthis have destroyed one commercial ship, captured another, and launched hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones at commercial ships and warships along international shipping lanes near Yemen, mostly in the Red Sea.

The Houthis say the attacks are intended to compel Israel to halt its blockade of Gaza, and have targeted US and UK ships because both countries attacked Yemen.

Yemeni government officials accuse the Houthis of leveraging Yemen’s widespread anger over Israel’s war in Gaza to shore up their dwindling popular support, recruit new fighters, and justify continuing military operations throughout Yemen. 

Speaking to leaders at the Arab summit in Bahrain on Thursday, Rashad Al-Alimi, head of Yemen’s internationally recognized Presidential Leadership Council, branded the Houthis as a “rogue” force that poses a significant danger to regional and international security.

He accused the Houthis of killing more than 500,000 Yemenis, displacing four million more, torching hundreds of homes and mosques, besieging towns, seizing Yemeni property, and generating the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophe.

“The Yemen war, which was instigated a decade ago by Iran-backed militia, will continue to be one of the biggest challenges to Arab nations and their people’s interests,” Al-Alimi said.

At the same time, Yemen’s Prime Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak accused the Houthis of attempting to bankrupt his government by attacking oil terminals in the government-controlled provinces of Hadramout and Shabwa, preventing traders from importing goods through Aden ports, while banning the import of gas from the central city of Marib. 

He said that the Houthis’ efforts, which he described as an economic war, had cost the Yemeni government 3.3 trillion Yemeni riyals ($13.2 billion) in lost income since October 2022. 

“The Houthis are using all of their cards, including the economic war, to accomplish political goals,” bin Mubarak said in an interview with the national TV on Wednesday.

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