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Fresh strikes target Yemen rebels over Red Sea threat

Hundreds of thousands gathered in Sanaa in protest, many waving Yemeni and Palestinian flags
— Hodeida (Yemen) (AFP)

Fresh strikes targeted Yemen's Huthis on Saturday, security sources and the US military said, after the Iran-backed rebels warned of further attacks on Red Sea shipping.

The strikes came a day after US and British forces hit scores of targets across the country, heightening fears that Israel's war with Palestinian Hamas militants could engulf the region.

Violence involving Iran-aligned groups in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria has surged since the war in Gaza began in early October.

The Huthis, who say they are acting in solidarity with Gaza, have carried out a growing number of missile and drone attacks on what they deem Israeli-linked shipping on the key Red Sea trade route.

Around 12 percent of global trade normally passes through it, but since mid-November the attacks have prompted many shipping firms to take the longer route around the tip of Africa, disrupting supply chains and putting upward pressure on inflation.

The Huthis have carried out a growing number of missile and drone attacks on what they deem Israeli-linked shipping

The Huthi campaign followed Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel which sparked the war still raging in the besieged Gaza Strip.

US Central Command said its forces attacked a Huthi radar site early on Saturday as "a follow-on action" related to the previous day's strikes.

Later on Saturday, a Huthi-allied military source told AFP that a site on the outskirts of the Red Sea port city of Hodeida which the rebels used to launch a rocket was hit.

A police source confirmed the latest strike, which a US defence official told AFP was not carried out by the United States.

- 'Precarious regional context' -

An AFP correspondent in Hodeida said she heard the sound of a missile and a blast, followed by another explosion further away 90 minutes later.

The Huthis' official media earlier said Al-Dailami airbase in Yemen's rebel-held capital Sanaa had been struck in the latest bombardment.

US, UK strikes in Yemen

On Saturday morning, rebel forces in north Sanaa had shut the area around the airbase and only residents with permits from neighbourhood chiefs were allowed to enter, an AFP correspondent said.

Glass was scattered around the buildings surrounding the base, with some residents having fled to areas considered to be safer.

UN special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg urged "all involved" to avoid actions that would endanger maritime trade and "fuel regional tensions at this critical time".

Grundberg noted "with serious concern" the impact of the "increasingly precarious regional context" on Yemen and called for diplomacy to be prioritised.

Britain, the United States and eight allies said strikes on Friday aimed to "de-escalate tensions", but the Huthis vowed to continue their attacks.

Analysts said the Western strikes are unlikely to stop the rebels.

Washington's ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield warned that no countries' vessels were immune to the threat posed by Huthi rebels

The Huthis withstood thousands of air raids while battling a Saudi-led coalition for more than seven years.

"All American-British interests have become legitimate targets" following Friday's strikes, the rebels' Supreme Political Council said.

Hussein al-Ezzi, the Huthis' deputy foreign minister, said the United States and Britain must "prepare to pay a heavy price".

- 'Terrified' -

The Huthis released a video showing military manoeuvres in Yemen's northwestern governorate of Saada where fighters simulated bomb, missile and artillery attacks on US and Israeli targets.

They have controlled much of Yemen since a civil war erupted in 2014 and are part of an Iran-aligned "axis of resistance" against Israel and its allies.

Washington last month announced a maritime security initiative to protect shipping in the area. But the Huthis kept up attacks despite several warnings.

Hundreds of thousands of people, some carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles, gathered in Yemen's capital Sanaa on Friday to protest

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on the strikes on Friday, days after adopting a resolution demanding the Huthis immediately stop their attacks.

With the strikes on Friday, the United States and Britain targeted nearly 30 locations using more than 150 munitions, US General Douglas Sims said, updating earlier figures.

Huthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said the raids killed five people and wounded six rebels.

"When I heard the first blast, I was terrified, I thought it was a dream," Hodeida resident Manal Faqirah told AFP, saying she was awakened from her sleep by the strikes.

"When the second blast came, I knew this was a strike, this was war," the 36-year-old added.

Hundreds of thousands of people, some carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles, gathered in Sanaa on Friday to protest, many waving Yemeni and Palestinian flags, an AFP journalist reported.

Supporters of pro-Iran factions also rallied in Baghdad on Saturday to denounce the strikes on Yemen, some holding Palestinian flags and messages hostile to the United States and Israel.

- 'Outrageous behaviour' -

Biden called the strikes a successful "defensive action" after the "unprecedented" Red Sea attacks and said he would act again if the Huthis continued their "outrageous behaviour".

But Nasser Kanani, spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry, said the Western strikes would fuel "insecurity and instability in the region" while "diverting" attention from Gaza.

Hamas said it would hold Britain and the United States "responsible for the repercussions on regional security".

However, Fabian Hinz, a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, discounted the risk of escalation, "as big players like Iran are keen on avoiding a regional war".