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Missile Fired From Rebel-Controlled Yemen Misses a Container Ship in Bab el-Mandeb Strait

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Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A missile fired from territory controlled by Yemen’s Houthi rebels missed a container ship traveling through the crucial Bab el-Mandeb Strait on Thursday, a U.S. defense official said, the latest attack threatening shipping in the crucial maritime chokepoint. online news

The seaborne assaults attributed to the Iran-backed Houthis have been part of their pressure campaign over the Israel-Hamas war raging in the Gaza Strip.

The Houthis have attacked vessels in the Red Sea and launched drones and missiles targeting Israel. In recent days, they have threatened to attack any vessel they believe is either going to or coming from Israel, though several vessels targeted had no apparent link at all.

The missile fired Thursday splashed harmlessly in the water near the Maersk Gibraltar, a Hong Kong-flagged container ship that had been traveling from Salalah, Oman, to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the U.S. official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The official’s comments came after the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which monitors Mideast shipping lanes, put out an alert warning of an incident in the strait, which separates East Africa from the Arabian Peninsula.

Later Thursday, a Houthi spokesman claimed the rebels had hit the Maersk Gibraltar with a drone strike, after its crew allegedly failed to respond to the rebels’ call to surrender. The spokesman for the Iran-backed fighters, Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, also claimed the vessel was heading to Israel.

Saree did not provide any details about the purported strike to the ship or any damage inflicted.

Maersk, one of the world’s biggest shippers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier in the day, the private intelligence firm Ambrey said the ship had also been called over the radio by “an entity claiming to be the ‘Yemeni Navy’ ahead of the missile being launched towards the vessel.”

“The ‘Yemeni Navy’ demanded the vessel alter course to head for Yemen,” Ambrey said and assessed the entity to be the Houthis.

On Wednesday, two missiles fired from Houthi-held territory missed a commercial tanker loaded with Indian-manufactured jet fuel near the key Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Also near the strait, a missile fired by Houthis on Monday night slammed into a Norwegian-flagged tanker in the Red Sea.

Global shipping has increasingly been targeted as the Israel-Hamas war threatens to become a wider regional conflict — even during a brief pause in fighting during which Hamas exchanged hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. The collapse of the truce and the resumption of a punishing Israeli ground offensive and airstrikes on Gaza have raised the risk of more sea attacks.

The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is only 29 kilometers (18 miles) wide at its narrowest point, limiting traffic to two channels for inbound and outbound shipments, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nearly 10% of all oil traded at sea passes through it. An estimated $1 trillion in goods pass through the strait annually.

In November, Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship linked to Israel in the Red Sea off Yemen. The rebels still hold the vessel near the port city of Hodeida. Separately, a container ship owned by an Israeli billionaire came under attack by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean.

A separate, tentative cease-fire between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of Yemen’s exiled government has held for months despite that country’s long war. That’s raised concerns that any wider conflict in the sea — or a potential reprisal strike from Western forces — could reignite those tensions in the Arab world’s poorest nation.

Associated Press writer Jack Jeffery in Cairo contributed to this report.

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