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Houthis ask US, British nationals to leave Yemen within a month amid tensions in Middle East

The development came amid rising tensions following a joint attack by the US and UK military on Houthi targets in Yemen. Houthis have attacked commercial ships in the Red Sea to express solidarity with Palestinians, risking global inflation and the possible expansion of the Israel-Hamas war.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Aden (Yemen) Published on: January 25, 2024 14:07 IST
Yemen, Houthis, US and UK nationals
Image Source : REUTERS Houthi supporters mourn the loss of fighters killed in US strikes in Yemen.

Aden: Houthi authorities in Yemen have ordered US and British nationals of the United Nations and Sanaa-based humanitarian organisations to leave the country within a month, according to a document and a Houthi official on Wednesday, amid growing tensions following a joint strike against military targets of the Iran-backed group earlier this week. Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea have risked the expansion of the Israel-Hamas war and put it in direct confrontation with Western countries.

"The ministry ... would like to stress that you must inform officials and workers with US and British citizenships to prepare to leave the country within 30 days," said a letter sent by the Houthi foreign ministry to the UN's acting humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, Peter Hawkins. The letter also ordered foreign organisations to not hire American and British citizens for Yemen's operations.

The US embassy said it was aware of reports about the letter but "cannot speak on behalf of the UN or humanitarian organizations in Yemen as to what they may have received from Houthi 'authorities'". Additionally, the British embassy said staff had not yet been told to leave and the mission was in close contact with the UN on the issue.

"The UN provide vital assistance to the Yemeni people ... via the very sea routes that the Houthis are jeopardising," the British mission in Yemen said in a statement. "Nothing should be done that hinders their ability to deliver," it added. Notably, the Houthis are a Shiite rebel group that’s held Sanaa since 2014 and been at war with a Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s exiled government since 2015. 

Confrontations between the US and Houthis

The US and British forces conducted a second joint attack against the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen on Monday, targeting a Houthi underground storage site along with missile and surveillance capabilities in eight locations, according to the Pentagon. This marked the eighth time the US has carried out attacks against the Houthis and the second time the UK has participated in them.

The targets included missile systems and launchers, air defense systems, radars, and deeply buried weapons storage facilities, which were used by the Yemen-based group to attack merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Aden. The joint operation came about 10 days after US and British warships and fighter jets struck more than 60 targets in 28 locations.

The Houthis have expressed solidarity with Palestinians and say their attacks aim to end the pounding Israeli air-and-ground offensive targeting the Gaza Strip, even expanding their targets to include American ships, against Washington's backing of Israel in the war. The repeated attacks led the US to relist Houthis to a list of terrorist groups as Washington tries to stem attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea. 

Expansion of Middle East conflict

There have been more than 30 attacks by Houthis on shipping in the Red Sea. So far, the eight rounds of strikes over the past month have failed to stop Houthi attacks against shipping. US President Joe Biden earlier said that air strikes would continue even as he acknowledged they may not be halting the Houthi attacks. Experts say Biden's emerging strategy on Yemen aims to weaken the Houthi militants but stops well short of trying to defeat the group or directly address Iran.

The Houthi attacks have disrupted global shipping and stoked fears of global inflation. They have also deepened concern that fallout from the Israel-Hamas war could destabilise the Middle East. The Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen, have said their attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel's operations in Gaza intensify.

Iran backs Hamas, Lebanon-based group Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and their involvement in the war has drawn strong condemnation from Western countries. The confrontation risks an expansion of the conflict beyond Hamas-governed Gaza, where the local health ministry says over 25,000 people - or more than 1 per cent of Gaza's 2.3 million population - have been killed in Israel's assault.

Additionally, the attacks have disrupted international shipping, causing some companies to suspend transits through the Red Sea and use the much longer and costlier journey through Africa. Currently, 10-15% of global trade passes through the Red Sea, and international shipping companies are having to reroute through the Cape of Good Hope, adding weeks to the delivery of key goods and materials, including oil and gas. 

(with inputs from Reuters)

ALSO READ | US, British forces carry out fresh attacks against Houthis targeting ships in Red Sea

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